Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Perfume: The Story of a Murderer</strong> (2006)

(Video on Demand, December 2015) Adapting Patrick Süskind’s extraordinary novel Perfume is not impossible (as this film proves), but it’s daunting enough.  Part of it, of course, has to do with the central conceit of a story in which smell (with its associated vocabulary and emotional impact) plays such a strong role – how to portray that on-screen?  But if there was a filmmaker for the job, then Tom Tykwer (of Run Lola Run and Cloud Atlas fame) would be it.  In his hands, a potentially silly film becomes curiously accessible, despite an oft-unbearable beginning (complete with baby endangerment) and a final mass-orgy sequence (you read that correctly) that could have gone terribly wrong in the wrong hands.  This Perfume, though, ends up being reasonably good; certainly beautiful and thought-provoking at times.  Ben Whishaw makes an impression as the lead character, a young man gifted with superhuman olfactory senses who resorts to murder in order to perfect the ultimate perfume.  Dustin Hoffman shows up for a few pivotal scenes, but this is really Whishaw’s film.  Perfume’s most noteworthy characteristic, aside from a daring screenplay, is its splendid cinematography, honed to quasi-perfection as it goes from the dirty markets of Paris to the beautiful countryside of southern Europe.  The emphasis on scent jargon and trade secrets is fascinating, and the gradual discoveries of the lead character are narrated effectively (by John Hurt, no less).  Warm and harsh at the same time, Perfume is a singular film experience, the kind fit to make jaded moviegoers say “wow, that was pretty good!”  It may not, however, be everything to everyone.

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