Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Paramount/DreamWorks SKG, R)

film_perfume_smOne critic commented that they should have shot the film in Odorama, the scratch 'n' sniff technique John Waters created for his 1981 film Polyester. Thus, any insight I had about Perfume was stolen out from underneath me.

 

 

 

 

film_perfume

As a film critic, I often find myself in the unenviable position of thinking that I'm saying something very insightful about a film, only to read other critics' reviews upon the film's release, and find that they all had the same thoughts as I did. A good example of this was when I reviewed Memento, and made the comment that telling the story backward forced the viewer into the same situation as the main character of the movie: not remembering what came before it. At the time, I was proud of myself for catching this specific use of the backward storytelling mechanic, but now, with the benefit of hindsight, I feel very stupid for thinking that other people wouldn't also realize the same thing. So it goes.

About halfway through the press screening of the new Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) film, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, I had a first. In all of the thousands of films I've seen in the theater over the years: the film burned up on the screen in the projector, like how they fake in Gremlins 2. I'd felt left out for so long—people who don't see nearly as many films as I do have told me that they've encountered this, so I'm glad that after Perfume I can finally mark it off my list. Anyway, while we were waiting for the projectionist to fix the problem, some critics near me were talking about how Perfume, which is as olfactory-oriented as any film can be, succeeds in bringing the whole spectrum of the sense of smell to a dark room that in reality smells like nothing other than stale popcorn and beer farts. One critic commented that they should have shot the film in Odorama, the scratch 'n' sniff technique John Waters created for his 1981 film Polyester. Thus, any insight I had about Perfume was stolen out from underneath me. At least this time I found out I was not alone before I published my review.

Moving on, Perfume is adapted from the long considered inadaptable Patrick Süskind novel of the same name (after initially showing interest, even Stanley Kubrick labeled it as such). It concerns a young man, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Wishaw), in 18th century Paris who has an extremely sensitive sense of smell. Taking the only logical vocation for someone of his unique abilities, early in his life he becomes a perfume maker. Since Grenouille gets his start making perfumes at a relatively young age, he becomes extremely skilled in his trade just as he is beginning to become interested in girls. Given that his obsession is smell, as he matures he becomes obsessed with capturing the scent of women in a perfume, and, as he learns just how to do it, he goes about unemotionally killing beautiful young women so that he can bottle their scent. At this point, the film becomes an almost typical serial killer movie, in which the law enforcers race against the clock before the killer gets his next victim.

Those who have seen Tykwer's non-Lola films (notably, Heaven and The Princess and the Warrior) know that he's not one to go about making movies in a predictable fashion, nor does he like to recycle his old tricks. One thing that is striking, though, is that every woman in Perfume who is supposed to be extremely beautiful are all redheads, which is funny in light of Franka Potente's famous hair as Lola. Maybe Tykwer has a red hair fetish. Aside from that, Tykwer teams with Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek, with whom he made the great scores for both Lola and Princess, although this time around to a much lesser effect. The real mood enhancers here, and the best vehicles in the film for eliciting the sense of smell in the viewer (short of John Hurt's overly descriptive narration; I think Hurt is about two years away from giving up the acting thing entirely in favor of just narrating movies), are Frank Griebe's cinematography and Uli Hanisch's production design. All saturated reds when the smell is supposed to be breathtaking and grays when it is supposed to be bad, plus Tykwer's funny flash cuts of fish heads and rose petals when needed, add up to the successful filmic adaptation of this supposedly (and logically) unfilmable material. | Pete Timmermann

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