'Perfume - The Story Of A Murderer'
(Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, Dusin Hoffman, et al / DVD / R / 2007 / Paramount Home Entertainment)
Overview: Based on Patrick Suskind's novel about a serial killer who hunts victims with his superhuman sense of smell, Perfume: Story of a Murderer is a florid, grisly portrayal of this historical drama set in 18th century France. Jean-Baptiste Grunuis (Ben Whishaw) is born under his mother's table at the fish market, onto a pile of muddy fish guts, establishing from the beginning his repulsion for putrid scents. A childhood of neglect and, later, a job at a tannery, encourage Jean-Baptiste to develop his olfactory sense rather than his verbal skills, so that an opportunity to prove his worth to Parisian perfumist, Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), results in his immediate hire into a promising new career. His successes in perfume mixing are negated by a blinding obsession for capturing the sublime beauty of human soul, which in his twisted logic requires the killing of young women to reduce their body fats to essential oils for the ultimate, cannibalized eau de parfum.
DVD Verdict: It must be a daunting task when a filmmaker attempts to adapt a novel that has been deemed "unfilmable." Such is the challenge Tom Tykwer (the audacious "Run, Lola, Run") accepted when he decided to film "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer," the wildly popular cult novel by Patrick Suskind first printed in the US in 1986. Intrinsic to the success of telling the tale of "Perfume" is to convey a palpable sense of "smell" and its intoxicating powers. While a book may do this with pages and pages of prose, a film does not have this descriptive luxury - hence, it must attempt some sort of visual shorthand.
I'm pleased to say that Tykwer was up to the task. With vivid art direction, stunning visuals, and bold editing choices - you feel, almost, as if you can smell this peculiar tale. While this may sound like dubious praise, it is actually the highest compliment.
Set in 18th century France, "Perfume" relates the tragic tale of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw). Born and almost killed in a fish market, raised in an orphanage, put into manual (and often dangerous) service at a young age, Jean-Baptiste is a disaffected and disconnected youth. Having no social skills and lacking any kind of normal emotional processes, the one thing that differentiates Jean-Baptiste is his keen sense of smell. It seems to be the only thing that connects him to the world he lives in. A chance visit to the city brings him to a perfume shop/manufacturer.
Captivated by this world that revolves around the olfactory senses, Jean-Baptiste aggressively pursues a position with the proprietor (Dustin Hoffman). After achieving some success and freedom, he becomes obsessed with procuring the perfect scent--one that he once smelled in the "essence" of a beautiful young woman. Jean-Baptiste's obsessive bent soon leads to murder (no spoiler here, it is the title) as he seeks to extract this intoxicating smell from his victims. It's as if creating this one perfect scent will somehow humanize him - but to attempt it, he becomes even more monstrous.
In the opening minutes of "Perfume," I was absolutely blown away. The visual impact of the early scenes is astonishing and unique. The tale, however, does settle down into a more routine and more familiar pattern. But while it doesn't maintain the frenetic and captivating pace, it is never less than intriguing and certainly beautiful to view. Technically, the film is awesome. I've already mentioned art direction and editing, but scoring, cinematography, and costuming are all top notch. Jean-Baptiste, who is really in every scene, can be a challenging central character--Whishaw plays him fairly vacantly. It is a one note performance, but largely because that's what the story calls for - a certain emotional flatness. Therefore, I thought it was effective - others might find it somewhat empty.
I suspect many will absolutely loathe "Perfume," however, for I have yet to speak about the ending. The ending is absolutely outrageous, and I suspect that it will polarize audiences into "love it/hate it" camps. It's so over-the-top, so unlike anything you might foresee, and so unlike anything you've ever witnessed in a film before. Yet, for me, these excesses worked and fit well with the tone of this lurid little tale. Love it or hate it, it's a bold choice - and one you're not likely to forget. So I am recommending "Perfume" for those that like something different - this is not standard Hollywood fare, and I mean that in a good way. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the only Special Feature of The Story of Perfume Featurette.