Movies / Movie Reviews

Pefume: The Story of A Murderer


By Al Kratina
Mar 7, 2007 - 19:07

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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
2006, USA

Starring: Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood

Directed by: Tom Tykwer

Written by: Andrew Birkin, Bernd Eichinger, Tom Tykwer, Patrick Suskind (novel)

Produced by: Bernd Eichinger

Genres: Drama, Thriller, Period Piece

Release Date: January 5th, 2007

MPAA Rating: Rated R for aberrant behavior involving nudity, violence, sexuality, and disturbing images.

Distributors: Dreamworks SKG

Running Time: 147 minutes


Apparently, love smells like dead women. Or at least, that's the presupposition of Tom Tykwer’s Perfume, with some of the film's poetry stripped away. An adaptation of Patrick Suskind’s novel, Perfume is an ambitious movie that seeks to translate the ephemeral quality of scent to a medium that isn't necessarily conducive to it. Film works best with sight and sound, and, with the addition of those seats that shake with bass tones and floors that stick like the bathroom on a porn set, texture as well. That leaves taste, which is usually deadened by the dill pickle flavoring that finds its way onto the popcorn, and smell, which is what Perfume concerns itself with.


Set in 18th century France, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is, as the title would suggest, the story of a murderer. But this murderer has something that sets him apart from other serial killers, and it’s not, say, an unexpectedly unique way of cooking genitals or an inventive use of muriatic acid. Instead, he's been gifted with the most sensitive nose the world has ever seen. Err, smelled. Able to identify scents and their components instantly, his talent has apparently completely replaced his moral compass, and everyone he comes into contact with dies, either by his hand, or through the disastrous effects of magic realism. Played by Ben Whishaw, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born in the fish market, the fetid centre of Paris' stink, and lives for no purpose other than to experience scent. Until, that is, he discovers that pretty women smell good. After that, he embarks on twin careers as both a perfumer and a serial killer, attempting to replicate the sensation of true love by killing hookers and women with red hair.

Tykwer’s film, in the hands of cinematographer Frank Griebe, looks beautiful, with its grimly shadowed vision of Paris' back alleys and dank corners. Narratively, however, it struggles in its first half. As an adaptation, it's too literal, with voice over narration making it feel like a book on tape with a slide show accompaniment. As well,
images of what Grenouille is smelling, no matter how much they're cut like Run Lola Run, are a little too obvious for a director of Tykwer’s talent. Once the movie gets going, however, the narration is abandoned, and the film finds legs as its own entity, standing on its own as a film instead of relying on the text of the novel. Perfume gradually evolves into a sort of allegorical fantasy, in which the ephemeral quality of scent is a substitute for the nature of beauty, and love. The film is not meant to be taken literally, but unfortunately, but the time that's established, Dustin Hoffman has already ruined its tenuous grip on respectability. As faded perfumer Guiseppe Baldini, his Italian accent is so overwhelmingly bad, even for typage, that it's as if he's constantly playing to the cheap seats in a burlesque show. I kept expecting Can Can girls to come out and swing nipple tassels every time he opened his mouth, and contrasted with Grenouille’s childlike naiveté, it's a jarring inconsistency. Perfume never really recovers from Hoffman's misstep, despite a poetic ending, some nice flourishes to the visuals and mood, and a strong supporting turn by Alan Rickman. It's a beautiful book, and parts of the movie reflect that beauty, but the parts of it do stink, neither of love nor of dead women.

Rating: 6 on 10


Last Updated: May 15, 2017 - 12:13

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