Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

"Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" (Tom Tykwer, 2006) Give the director of "Run, Lola, Run" a zillion dollar budget and a best-seller to adapt and you get this monstrous little curiosity, with a role for Dustin Hoffman, yet. Unfortunately, Twyker can't meet the film's biggest challenge-communicating the sense of smell and doing it delicately, of course. The director can do little more than ecstatic shots of Ben Whishaw's Jean-Baptiste Grenouille huffing and puffing and sniffing the air--actually the other way around. And one just can't buy the novel and film's biggest conceit--that the young amateur perfumer can sense parts per million like a super-bloodhound, hours, even days after the source has passed. It's an idea at odds with the visual of a Paris in squalor that Tykwer has (quite rightly, I'd bet) presented. Young Grenouille has this incredibly sensitive snoot in a town of open sewers, outdoor markets and the thousand natural scents, both beautiful and repugnant, including the perfumery used by the citizenry to cover it all up. It doesn't read that he'd be so olfactorily fine-tuned.

That's the major hurdle. The other is the coarse rankness of the material, where women--it's always women--are killed serially, covered in animal fat to immediately preserve their scent, then the fat is scraped off and reduced down to its basic (one would presume) pheromone, and collected as an eau de copse. The plot all comes down to a...boil...when Alan Rickman's protective father suspects his daughter is being stalked by the little stinker, and highs her to the hinterlands at full gallop. Despite his precautions Grenouille is able to track them on-foot despite the dughter's intoxicating scent being mixed with that of a sweating horse. This is where Tykwer's inability to sell the scent works to his advantage. You're not supposed to think about that in the absence of evidence.

There are other troubling aspects to it, but let's come right to the nitty of the gritty. "Perfume" is just another in a series of serial killer movies which (sorry) boils down women to objects with an aspect to be coveted and destroyed for. It's not unlike "House of Wax" (whichever version) or the skin-suits of "The Silence of the Lambs." Despite being gussied up with period detail, sophistication of technique and aspects of subject matter, "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" is just another horror movie with pretensions of grandeur. Despite all the attempts to cover it up, you can't hide the basic stink.

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