Film review: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006), directed by Tom Tykwer
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is an intensely creepy film! It starts in a rather gory way, with Jean-Baptiste Grenouille being born to a fishmonger in 18th century France, who throws him on the discard pile, where she normally throws her stillborn babies. Except this time, the baby isn’t dead …
As she’s left him there to die, she gets caught and hung, and the baby taken to an orphanage. There, he nearly gets smothered by the other kids, but is rescued by the lady who owns the place. Some years pass, the child doesn’t speak, but he smells a lot… as in, his olfactory senses are very precise and impressive… although he probably does smell a lot as well, considering how dirty they all are.
Some further years later, he’s learned to speak and is sold to a tanner, i.e. people who turn animal skins into leather, and another few years in that rank environment, he (now played by Ben Whishaw) gets to help delivering the leather around town, and finds a girl. This is a smell new to him, intoxicating… and not to actually spoil things too much, he ends up working for a has-been of a perfume maker (Dustin Hoffman), who sees his fortunes turned around by this young man who claims to have the best nose in the world. There, he wants to know how to capture smells, every smell, and keep them, but the perfume maker’s method of extraction doesn’t quite work for what he has in mind…
He ends up leaving Paris behind and discovers a young lady with incredible red hair (Rachel Hurd-Wood, whose hair I am now in awe of, and no, that’s not her on the DVD cover, that’s a German actress who also has an awe-inspiring hair colour) and her father (Alan Rickman in a rather small but excellent role). Monsieur Grenouille’s intentions with the girl, and women in general, aren’t the most civilised… but rather… experimental. In a Dexter sort of way.
It’s gory and it’s creepy, because what Grenouille does is not seen by him as “OMG, look at me, I’m an evil S.O.B. if ever there was one!” but rather… well… he doesn’t even reflect that what he’s doing might be objectionable, distasteful, wrong on so many levels, not to mention, well, seriously illegal?
It makes it an oddly compelling watch, while at the same time, made me feel rather squeamish. It’s very raw and frank in its, erm, disgustingness, and apparently, it’s a German film, even though they speak English. German film-makers know how to push my buttons, because it’s not necessarily that horrible to watch, but the added psychological element to it just creeps the hell out of me. Same thing with Anatomy: not very scary as such, but what it implies… oh, doesn’t exactly make me eager to go to a hospital, let’s put it that way. The film on screen is perhaps not that interesting, but the film inside your head… eeek! Here, it’s how disturbed his mind is to even come up with something like that.
At the end, it got a bit silly, with the “Perfect Perfume” turning a whole town square into a giant orgy. If credibility wasn’t already stretched pretty thinly with the whole super-nose thing, it’s even thinner there. The ending itself is… interesting, but fitting with the rest of the story.
I mentioned this to a friend, a huge Alan Rickman fan, and asked if she’d seen it. She had, and she wasn’t terribly impressed. Her thought had basically been “WTF?” and that’s about it. An interesting film, on the whole, I thought. Interesting and… disturbed.
4 out of 5 vials.