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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

Film review: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006), directed by Tom Tykwer

perfumestoryofamurdererPerfume: 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.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

5 thoughts on “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

  1. i read the book about a decade ago. soooooo twisted, especially the ending, i never thought they’d ever adapt it.

  2. I liked this movie for its look-fantastical as it may be-at the perfume industry in the 18th century-I did find the ending laugh out loud silly-great review

  3. I read the book when I was about 16. And I still think that it is not really adaptable.
    I kind of liked the movie though mainly for the gorgeous settings, colours and the whole cast. But Ben Whishaw is looking way too good as Grenouille!

  4. Great review! I saw the movie not too long ago and liked it for the same reasons as mel u stated.
    It is of course, very disturbing but also interesting in it’s differentness. It reminded me somewhat of an original Grimm’s fairytale. (very grim indeed)!

  5. Thanks! 🙂 I also thought it was interesting to learn more about the perfume industry back in those days. It seemed real, at least. Hopefully it was. Err, except for what Grenouille was up to, that is. I seriously doubt if any smell like that could be captured, it would just be that of sweat… which perhaps wouldn’t make a great perfume! (Trying to hold back a joke that would fit so well in with the topic and with what Brits generally think of the French, but I’m not British… I just live here!)

    The colours used were very strong, like the incredibly red hair, the yellow flowers, purple lavender fields… When it wasn’t gory, it was quite aesthetically pleasing to look at.

    A Grimm fairytale… yes, that does sound like a good fit! 🙂

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