Perfume – The Story of a Murderer (2006)
My Rating: ****.5
Author Patrick Suskind enjoys a career shrouded in Salinger-esque mystery. Suskind’s best-selling novel PERFUME was coveted by Hollywood for many years, and finally makes it to the screen in this production helmed by Tom Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN). The film stays remarkably faithful to the author’s vision, perfectly summoning up the brooding ominousness of small-town life in 18th-century France, and getting the casting of its central character, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), exactly right. Grenouille is an orphan whose sense of smell is extraordinarily acute.
He impresses master perfumer Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) enough to work for him, and this sets Grenouille off on an epic quest to find the perfect scent. When he discovers that killing young women and bottling their essence is the only way he can achieve his dream, Grenouille is soon a wanted man with multiple murders to his name. However, when it comes to making one last kill–namely the attractive redhead Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood)–the young perfumer may have met his match in her overprotective father, Richis (Alan Rickman). Tykwer’s film is an impressive achievement, not least because the subject of scent and the cinematic medium were always going to make uneasy bedfellows.
Couple that with the weight of expectation caused by the millions of readers who have delighted in Suskind’s words, and it needed a brave director to take on such a project. Whishaw is a revelation in his first major screen appearance, and Tykwer made a wise choice in bringing in some older heads (Rickman, Hoffman) to support the younger actor. Visually, the film is stunning, and cinematographer Frank Griebe clearly worked hard to bring Suskind and Tykwer’s visions to life. But ultimately this is an ensemble piece, with cast and crew all pulling together to create a film that simmers with a hushed menace throughout.