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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 26.87%
Average: 10.45%
Pretty Bad: 4.48%
Total Crap: 8.96%

6 reviews, 31 user ratings

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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
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by Erik Childress

"Can I Smell Your Crotch? No? Then It Must Be Your Perfume."
3 stars

It’s going to take some overtime to wrap my brain around what I just saw with Tom Twyker’s new film. On one hand it’s a straight-up story of a man with the greatest scent muscles in all the world who puts his talents to good use. In the other is the mind of a serial killer so obsessed with capturing the pheramones of the opposite sex that he’ll create a murder spree that trumped Jack the Ripper. Both sides get off to roaring starts and a visual panache that cleanses some of the horrific images which will dilute some audience’s tastes from the beginning. Then, both wear out their welcome in a fashion of such eager repetitiveness that the final scenes (a long time coming) take us to territory so odd as to make a final statement on some overall meaning about love and to be loved that has never permeated the way the lead character’s creations have. Or as my colleague, Sergio Mims, so perfectly and more simply put it, “I guess if you smell like a chick you can get away with anything.”

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) is lucky to be alive. As a baby, he had a mother of four stillborns birthing him in the middle of a fish market with no intention of keeping him. In the orphanage, he’s nearly smothered to death by the children who have no idea what to do with him. But even in his infancy, he had a gift. An almost mutant sense of smell embodies Jean-Baptiste, able to detect and breakdown anything giving off an aroma. After further hardships as a tannery apprentice, a stroll down the streets of 18th century Paris, encounters him with a young woman (Karoline Herfurth). But its not those juicy plums she’s selling that triggers his smelly curiosity. After startling and accidentally smothering her, the young man is less distressed by the murder he’s just committed then the smell that is lost as the body dies.

Wanting to learn the secret to preserving scent, Jean-Baptiste meets once-celebrated parfumier, Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman). After successfully recreating a popular perfume with its secret elements, Grenouille goes to work restoring Baldini to his former glory with hundreds of new fragrances in exchange for the knowledge necessary to bottle the pheramones of the fairer sex. When Baldini tells him of the art of enfleurage (the process of capturing the fragrance of plants & flowers), Jean-Baptiste heads off to Grasse and goes to work there. Much more than just a cog in the wheel, he’s determined to experiment with the process himself and begins a killing spree to pursue his dream of the ultimate l'odeur.

Tykwer’s film wants to do two things – put us into the mind of a serial killer and have us walk away on some bizarro conclusion of fantasized realism in the hopes of analyzing the individual pursuit of love in any manifestation. One sorta works and the other is missing more than a few ingredients. The character of Jean-Baptiste to start is a one-note creation, soft-spoken and ill-educated except in the ways of the nose. We understand why he is this way, but it makes for a long, uncharismatic journey. His first murder is an accident. His second and third are necessary to begin his research. But after that, the process of scraping animal fat off the naked skin just needs either someone willing to fly their freak flag or the unflinching trust of a loving woman; neither of whom Jean-Baptiste has the skills or patience to pursue as an accomplice.

The extensiveness of the murders only begin to take shape about 90 minutes into the proceedings and thus whirlwinds into plot elements which needed more time to stir their exasperation. One of which is Jean-Baptiste’s obsession with the virginal daughter of merchant (and single father) Antoine Richis (Alan Rickman). The concerned dad leads the community revolt for justice and locking up their daughters, but it’s a fly speck after a corpse-driven montage, that unsuccessfully mirrors any period’s paranoia over sexual predators. The fact that many of the women remained in their purest form is an irony brushed aside after a quick mention. When Jean-Baptiste finally comes into direct contact with the girl, the brunt of their conversation is mysteriously kept off-screen, leaving way to a morning discovery that is devoid of either the horror or the misplaced connection between the two souls.

The soul of beings is their scent,” is the one piece of wisdom Jean-Baptiste offers as verbal consent. If the bodies are just vessels, then he must be doing the Lord’s work in trying to preserve their souls. Only the film tapdances around the Church’s placement in its themes, substituting a few shots of clergy and angry crowds eager for an execution. What are we to then make of the climactic scenes, linking the ending of Suddenly Last Summer to what could actually be the largest orgy ever captured on film? As Jean-Baptiste faces his fate, we’re succumbed to the belief that we’re in the midst of some Brazil-induced fantasy world where love conquers all and sex conquers all absolutely. The implications of a repressed moral institution arrives out of nowhere and glazes over whatever we’ve responded to thematically or morbidly up to the point when the film has well outlasted the promise of its first hour.

While apparently faithful to the Patrick Süskind novel its based on, there’s no exaggerating that Perfume runs a good 40 minutes too long. The scenes with Hoffman take up a good chunk on what is little more than an extended vignette with its own closure never to be spoken of again. Jean-Baptiste’s time in Grasse lacks both the suspense and morbid humor to cancel out Whishaw’s one-note performance and character. The film’s sporadic bouts of energy, typified in the introduction and the montage of corpses an hour later, makes the remaining moments drag on even further as it struggles to find a footing, either thematically or dramatically, worth caring about. As the film finally makes the case for the ultimate aphrodisiac, you could be stuffing quantities of chocolate, oysters and arugula while watching the playmate of the month down carrots and bananas and you’re still unlikely to be fooled by the supposed power of this Perfume.

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originally posted: 12/28/06 01:54:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2006 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/09/17 Louise (the actual one) A masterpiece and very faithful to the excellent novel. Recommended. 5 stars
7/13/10 chris. wouldn't mind watching it again 4 stars
7/26/09 Jimbo I Found It was very well done 5 stars
7/22/09 Eric Terrible movie, would have turned off if i were not with friends. Moves downhil for 2 1/2 h 1 stars
12/04/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
1/24/08 Kai worst movie ive seen in years! outrageously stupid, the scenario and acting comes off fakey 1 stars
1/18/08 Tony This is an intellectual parable, and is not about serial killers. 5 stars
11/19/07 The Russian Lunch Lady I like "deep" things, but this was too darn weird to be deep. 1 stars
10/30/07 Randy Marsh A review shouldnt give away the entire plot. 5 stars
10/24/07 Donald A mess... but the images of 18th century France are stunning. 2 stars
10/20/07 russell Brilliant. Despite the many misgivings, I agree that the film is spellbinding. 5 stars
9/25/07 Alison Absolute garbage 1 stars
9/19/07 jeanne Absolute narcissistic bollocks! I want my 2-1/2 hours back. 1 stars
8/21/07 Jennifer magic realism only works if its take on human nature rings true 2 stars
8/21/07 RodBell Until the Orgy an amazing black comedy then it just becomes a comedy, not handled well 4 stars
8/17/07 Stanley S Lavsky this movie was like a poem. I wish other directors had the eye and the foresight of Tyk 5 stars
8/14/07 scotty I loved it!! A stunning, enrapturing piece of art! 5 stars
8/08/07 Pam I thought it had a strong beginning, but fell apart. Hoffman was so miscast. 2 stars
8/07/07 Clint Jacobs Enthralling beginning but fizzles towards the end 3 stars
7/03/07 William Goss A well-crafted and compellingly peculiar curiosity, despite some third-act overindulgence. 4 stars
4/01/07 adam I want to be a perfumer! 5 stars
4/01/07 Karl-Heinz Schedwig Die Revolution frisst seine Kinder- i.e. the ends succumbs to the means. 4 stars
3/21/07 David Pollastrini I like the poster 4 stars
2/19/07 Nick Maday Absolutely amazing movie. I think I stayed completely still through the entire thing. 5 stars
2/02/07 kris Superb. I like the ending. Whishaw is goood. 5 stars
1/27/07 A Lawrence great 4 stars
1/22/07 Wu Tze Liang an amazing film, so true to the book. breathtaking scenes tell of how this haunted individu 5 stars
1/17/07 jess flintof what a load of crap 1 stars
1/12/07 Barry Allen Spellbinding! 5 stars
1/08/07 Archie loved it !! 5 stars
1/06/07 Janice Robillard The marriage of an amazing book to an amazing director yields amazing results! 5 stars
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  27-Dec-2006 (R)
  DVD: 24-Jul-2007



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