(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.
(In French, Video on Demand, June 2015) Even without being overly familiar with the children-book source material, I can report that Paddington works well as a film: It’s an absolutely charming surprise. Whimsical, sweet, good-natured and visually inventive, it manages to create a contemporary version of a walking-talking teddy bear without coming across as overly sweet or manipulative. It’s a tricky balance, but the film pulls it off. The special effects are good enough that at no time do viewers have any reason to question the existence of Paddington. Ben Whishaw brings a lot to our ursine protagonist through his voice performance, while Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville are instantly likable as the heads of the family that take in Paddington. Nicole Kidman also makes an impression in a fairly rare role as an antagonist, although her evil character sometimes feel out-of-place in an otherwise good-natured film. Writer/director Paul King should get most of the credit for the success of the film, not only for a charming screenplay, but also for visual flights of fancy that establish its unique atmosphere–the flybys through the cutaway Brown family home are a highlight, but several other sequences are executed in a remarkably original fashion. Funny, heartwarming, instantly-accessible and a pure delight, Paddington should please anyone within sight of the screen it’s playing on.