The long aborning screen adaptation of Patrick Süskind's
best-selling 1985 novel PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER
has finally reached the screen. Adapted by Andrew Birkin and
Bernd Eichinger and directed by Tom Tykwer, the motion picture
is a visually stunning piece of work. It almost overcomes the
main handicap of the story -- which is how to depict olfactory
experiences for a viewing audience. The production design is
so detailed and the milieu so beautifully evoked that one can
almost imagine the smells.
The central character of the film is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille
(portrayed by newcomer Ben Whishaw), born to a Parisian
fishmonger in the early 1700s. His mother had previously had
only still births so she expected this child would follow suit.
It was her misfortune that he survived and she was sent to the
gallows for trying to kill the baby. Orphaned, Grenouille is
placed in a home before being sold to a tanner to work in his
factory. The squalor and filth on screen is almost palpable thanks
to the production design of Uli Hanisch and the cinematography
of Frank Griebe. The writers have thoughtfully employed a
timeworn device that actually works within the framework of the
movie: a narrator. John Hurt lends his plummy voice to the job,
much as he did for Lars von Trier in both DOGVILLE and MANDERLAY.
By chance, Grenouille has been blessed with an exceptional
gift for smell and whenever he is allowed, he explores areas of
the city with his nose. One day, he passes a perfumery where
the intoxicating scents are almost too much for him to bear. Later
on, he becomes entranced by the personal scent of a nubile young
woman (Karoline Herfurth). He follows her and accidentally murders
her as he tries to capture her unique smell. There's a sexual
undercurrent to the girl's death, but Grenouille does not physically
One day, the tanner allows him to make a delivery at the shop
of a down on his luck perfumer, an Italian named Baldini (a miscast
Dustin Hoffman). When Grenouille arrives, Baldini has been trying
to determine the exact ingredients in a rival's perfume. Demonstrating
his prowess, the youth manages to recreate the perfume, impress
the Italian, and land a position as an apprentice.
After learning what he can and encouraged by his master,
Grenouille sets off for Grasse where he can learn the art of
distilling the essence of flowers. Once in the new town, he becomes
enticed by the smell of another virginal young woman, Laura (Rachel
Hurd-Wood), who bears a passing resemblance to the murdered girl.
At this point, Grenouille begins his quest to distill what he feels is
the ultimate essence -- from the bodies of 13 young women -- and
he embarks on a killing spree that soon has the town in an uproar.
Eventually, the killer is unmasked but there's still a trick or
two up his sleeve and the climax of the movie, while faithful to
the book, is where the film goes a bit off course.
Up until that point, and the following scenes that wrap up
the tale, PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER works quite well.
Tykwer's direction is solid, Whishaw lends a weight to the character
and despite having little dialogue delivers a masterful performance.
Of the large supporting cast, Hurd-Wood is a pleasant surprise and
Alan Rickman as her protective father offers a strong portrayal.
MPAA Rating: R for aberrant behavior involving nudity,
violence, sexuality, and disturbing images
Running time: 147 mins.
Viewed at the Paramount Screening Room
The Story of a Murderer
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.