Film: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

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Film:

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Director: Tom Tykwer
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Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, orphaned as a newborn in the streets of Paris, is alone in the world. A peculiar child who rarely speaks, Grenouille is alienated from others but blessed with a remarkable gift. His sense of smell is so refined, so attuned to every blade of grass and blossoming flower, that it’s tragic when he’s sold into servitude to a tannery at the age of 13 and surrounded by the foul odors that accompany his labor. But there comes a day when Grenouille does an errand in town and discovers the object that will transform his life: perfume. Eager to learn the art of creating sophisticated fragrance, he apprentices himself to a once-renowned perfumer, and proves to be a savant whose almost mystical knowledge of scent surpasses anything that can be taught to him by masters of the craft.

Ironically, he was born with no scent of his own, a distinction which colors his undistinguished life. But Grenouille is fearless when it comes to the pursuit of a perfect perfume. When he discovers the most intoxicating scent he has ever experienced—the natural fragrance of a beautiful young girl—he learns that the only method to preserve her innocence and fresh beauty will require murder.

Plaguing the countryside with a series of gruesome killings, Grenouille must stay one step ahead of the authorities until he captures the final ingredient for his greatest perfume—the essence of a beautiful redheaded girl whose wealthy father earnestly protects her. Only then, he believes, will he earn the attention and adulation that his extraordinary talent deserves.

Based on the best-selling novel by Patrick Süskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is a story of a deadly obsession set in 18th-century France.

Reviews

Amazon.com

Based on Patrick Süskind’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. An omniscient narrator tells the story with much sympathy for Jean-Baptiste’s perverted psychology, making it, often, too obvious that his need for love justifies his murderous desire to capture misguided sexual attractions in a vile. Continuous close-ups of Grunius’s nose, countered by close-ups of the places and objects he smells, enhance the viewer’s understanding of his sensitivity. Repeated comparisons are made between the killer and dogs who aid, then expose his sick experimentation. The settings are fascinating, especially Baldini’s perfumery and some later scenes in enflorage factories outside Provence. Whishaw’s and Hoffman’s performances are both grand. But Perfume unnecessarily spells out Jean-Baptiste’s psychosis, squelching any chance for metaphor. This is unfortunate, considering the story’s paradoxical nature. As this crude hunter navigates his way through a world of utmost delicacy, one craves ambiguity rather than explanation. —Trinie Dalton

Related Works

Book:Perfume

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Patrick Süskind, John E. Woods

An acclaimed bestseller and international sensation, Patrick Suskind’s classic novel provokes a terrifying examination of what happens when one man’s indulgence in his greatest passion-his sense of smell-leads to murder.

In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift-an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille’s genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and frest-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the “ultimate perfume”—the scent of a beautiful young virgin.

Told with dazzling narrative brillance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity.

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