Courtesy of MovieXclusive.com
Perfume starts with a scene so ungodly and inhuman that we almost forget the film is about that most provisionary of humanly sensations. A wry and ubiquitous narration (by John Hurt) begins a tale of child born into the deepest pits of lifes wretches as he slowly discovers his talent. But even then, something was lost for good in that boy.
Based on a bestselling novel by Patrick Sskind about Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (a commendable Ben Whishaw), a serial killer with a gifted sense of smell so powerful that his olfactory gifts surpasses human conventions, allowing him to unlock odours that nobody else can access. Believing that God himself blessed him, Jean-Baptiste becomes driven with the sole imperative to rape and murder 13 girls in order to get the components he needs to produce the perfect scent.
Its a departure from the directors (Tom Tykwer) exuberantly pithy Run, Lola, Run. This darkly ironic period piece takes on operatic proportions with Tykwer aiming to create a visual odyssey that becomes an alluring nexus of decadence, a kind of accelerated regression into hell as we follow a man absent of love and conscience.
A vivid and painted recreation of decrepit 18th century Paris together with its grime and a trenchant insight into the revolting nature of its citizens and filthy living conditions makes this a visual effort worth appreciating. It celebrates the startlingly intrinsic beauty and chaos present within the hideous while exposing the repugnance in flawlessness, striking a balance with the psychotic idiot savants talents and his nature. Its baroque designs almost complement the complexities of the Frankenstein-esque monster that Jean-Baptiste eventually becomes.
The compulsive drive to collect a comprehensive assortment of odours leads him to sniff out and experience everything the world has to offer, without having any sort of a moral compass. His killings offer little insight into his mind aside from a desperate attempt to connect with humanity, possibly with a misogynistic sense of retribution. And what about the pointed references to his asexuality or his alienation and anger?
The film does not manage to convey the dense character study with enough discipline, often choosing to assault our vision with listless appropriations of the horrors committed when the fascination instead lies with Jean-Baptiste. Indeed, the perfumes debut is curious by all accounts and just adds on to the layers of the appealingly drab persona of our killer. The notion of misogyny does not stop with the character however, as the films women are uninteresting, and are often despicable characters that end up as ensilage to Jean-Baptiste. They become amoral representations of mere lust and retribution that ends up serving a rudimentary purpose in the grand design.
Even as the film uniformly keeps a creepy and tawdry tone, Perfume allows itself to have some fun in dressing up and powdering Dustin Hoffmans face velvety white. It leaves him to camp up his character, Giuseppe Baldini, a fading perfumer who takes on Jean-Baptiste as an apprentice. Its a plot servicing, lightweight performance thats interchanged in the films halfway mark by a remarkably restrained Alan Rickman, playing the wealthy Mr Richis who represents the films visual shift into a richly colourful world that Jean-Baptiste seems to appreciate but is unable to ever be a part of. All in all, Tykwer is unable to compensate for the lack of smell with a heightened consideration of sensory overloading sound and imagery. Its a film that takes its absurd subject a tad too seriously with an uneven bouquet that turns bad at the end.