Film review – Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

A film adaptation of Patrick Süskind’s best selling and critically acclaimed novel, originally titled Das Parfum, has been considered ever since its release in 1985. Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese are among those who regrettably declared the novel unfilmable. Over twenty years later director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) has created a flawed yet engaging film that propels the viewer into its 18th Century France setting.

Perfume’s protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, has an extraordinarily powerful sense of smell despite having no scent himself. Grenouille compulsively learns the art of capturing smells to create the perfect perfume, which unfortunately contains the scent of beautiful virgin girls who die during the process.

Ben Whishaw portrays the sociopathic Grenouille with the right balance of innocence and ruthlessness and Tykwer convincingly seduces the audience into his world of smell simply through strategic quick edits and close-ups.

Perfume is too long, Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman are miscast in a film of largely unknown actors and the climax of the film demands that the audience suspend their disbelief a little too much. But Perfume’s visual richness and haunting music compensate, resulting in an intensely beautiful film, which makes its grim subject matter all the more disturbing.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 271, 2007

© Thomas Caldwell, 2006