Jul 30, 2010

[Movies] Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer (2006)

Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer (2006)A common plot device in movies is playing around with disabilities within a respectable limitation. This means we end up with blind men falling in love with gorgeous women or mute young women trying to escape from serial killers. It seems that Hollywood is of the opinion that it's a heck of a lot easier to take away senses and build a story around that as opposed to giving people better ones. Beyond typical movies involving characters who are stronger than they should be, we rarely see stories about people with superhuman sight or hearing apart from superhero genre films.

Maybe that's where the problem lies - when we talk about extraordinary abilities, Hollywood executives tend to translate this into "superhero movie" or "action-packed blockbuster" or something along those lines. But there's a heck of a lot more to such special interest stories if given a chance to really prosper, but that'll take a heck of a lot of convincing behind closed studio doors. Then again, I doubt this is going to become the next big thing in terms of genre movies anytime soon since the types of stories that are possible with this little quirk are a bit hard to come by.

Then again, it's nice to be pleasantly surprised by the creative works of other countries. In a manner that reminded me of how I felt when I first watched that Russian masterpiece Daywatch, this German-born movie was beyond impressive and certainly worth the time to watch it.

Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer (Das Parfüm – Die Geschichte eines Mörders) is a 2006 movie based on a book Perfume published in 1985 by author Patrick Süskind.

Tom Tykwer (bottom left) talking to Ben Whiska...Image via Wikipedia
Set in 18th century France, the story follows the unusual life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), who was born in a fish market with an amazingly powerful sense of smell. Jean was raised as an orphan and was eventually sold to a tannery where he learned to hone his sense of smell to the point that it acted like a second sight for him. He could discern the unique elements that went into creating any particular scent and this was able to see the world in a completely different way. He is eventually allowed to make a delivery to Paris where he experiences a wide variety of new odors including those of a perfume shop. But beyond such niceties, he finds himself drawn to the odor of beautiful young woman (Karoline Herfurth). He tries to smell as much of her as he can but ends up accidentally killing her in an effort to silence her. Thus he learns that smells can disappear forever and he dedicates his life to learning how to capture and preserve smells.

He eventually crosses paths with the failing Italian perfumer Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) and is able to convince Baldini to take him on as an apprentice. All he needs to do is to come up with greater and more intoxicating perfumes for Baldini and in exchange he'll get to learn how to capture odors. Baldini teaches him many things including how odors are said to be arranged in chords of 4 scents creating a masterpiece composed of twelve elements and sometimes even a mythical 13th scent to complete the series. But Baldini's abilities are limited and soon Jean-Baptiste realizes that he still lacks the necessary skills to preserve all possible odors such of that of the plum-seller that he had accidentally killed.

Now a movie entirely about a man obsessed with smells only because he has a superhuman ability to sift through odors may not at all seem compelling and interesting, but you'll be most surprised by how the concept truly works in this film. The director, Tom Tkywer, was able to capture Jean-Baptiste's unique way of experiencing the world in such a beautiful manner that was both powerful yet subtle in its delivery.

The movie was truly rounded out thanks to the wonderful narration provided by none other than The Storyteller himself - William Hurt. He certainly has a unique vocal quality which is somehow comforting and soothing in its delivery despite some of the more startling events described in the movie. I'm not saying he's the perfect narrator period - he was simply the best man for this particular narration and he helped provide us viewers a better look into the mind of Grenouille. Without a narrator taking on that function, it would have resulted in Jean-Baptiste breaking out into overly lengthy expository speeches, which would have totally been out-of-sync for his character.

The movie was certainly unique in terms of the talent it was able to attract for such a dark yet magical piece. Dustin Hoffman really worked as the perfumer Baldini and not once did I find myself thinking of his performance as Tootsie. Alan Rickman was another surprise in terms of familiar faces and as always he did a stellar job protective father Antoine Richis.

But certainly most of the acclaim and praise needs to go to the young talent at the core of this movie. Ben Whishaw certainly surprised me with his intensity and how well he fulfilled the role of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille and it seems strange to me that he hasn't been more noticed in Hollywood by now. His stellar performance in this movie should have garnered him a lot more fame and fortune by now, but then again the entertainment industry tends to be rather fickle in that respect. Still, I'm definitely going to keep a better look out for major productions with him involved, if only to see how he's progressed as an actor.

Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer is a tale that plays out like a bit of a fairy tale mixed in with the slightly horrific account of a pulp thriller novel. It gets 4.5 captured virginal scents out of a possible 5.
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1 comment:

  1. love your review! thanks for not giving away spoilers. i've always been interested in this movie, now i really wanna watch it. :)