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Movie Review: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Directed by Tom Tykwer
Written by Andrew Birkin, Bernd Eichinger, and Tykwer from the book Das Parfum by Patrick Suskind

The previews for Perfume were intriguing: a man looking for the ultimate scent in a perfume goes around offing women to find it.  It looked like a dark comedy, and that may very well be what was intended, at least in part.  In essence, I expected a tale much like the ones Hitchcock used to craft, where you felt tense if the killer was in danger of being discovered.  But this, alas, is not the case.

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw, who looks a combination of Hayden Christensen and Christian Bale) is born to a mother who doesn’t want him, is sent to an orphanage as a baby, and grows up perfecting his sense of smell to genius levels.  He is sold into slavery, and his work eventually leads him to a bigger world, going into town one day and discovering the smell…of woman.  His deranged attempt to locate a woman’s essence leads to the death of the first woman he encounters.

Eventually, a once-respected perfumer named Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) becomes aware of Grenouille’s skill in picking out multiple scents from the latest perfumes and he hires him.  In return, Grenouille wants to learn how to retrieve the essence of any one thing and turn it into a scent, namely women, and bottle it.  Baldini sends him to a place where such things have been perfected.  It is here Grenouille discovers skills that lead to his murdering of numerous young girls all around the area, all in the name of finding this scent.  There’s one girl more special than the others, Laura Richis (Rachel Hurd-Wood), whose father Antoine (Alan Rickman) will do anything to protect.

Sounds like a good setup, but I thought the whole thing was horribly mishandled.  Hardly any suspense or interesting black comedy is present through Grenouille’s affectless murdering spree, and the movie has an ending that is very slow and stupid, one that has a good idea behind it but will make many squirm from lack of entertainment.

On the plus side, John Hurt offers his can’t-miss narration, much like he did for Lars von Trier’s Dogville and Manderlay.  He’s entertaining, but this device drops out somewhere near the middle and doesn’t return until the end.  As for Hoffman and Rickman, they’re pretty much wasted; Hoffman with his usual modern-day schtick, and Rickman at his most painfully earnest.

Too bad that this kind of movie falls short with the material it was handed.


Comment from KW
Time: January 2, 2007, 11:46 am

I have never even heard of this movie. I am so out of touch.

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