The world of Perfume is an utter delight to behold – contrasting filth, hardship and animal guts against the finery of nobles and the perfume trade. Right from the start, there is a visual feast on offer, and the effect is like a dream of an entrancing fairytale with a particularly seedy and brutal underbelly.
The big problem is that the film simply cannot convey the dizzying experiences that smell elicits in Jean-Baptiste, which pushes us away from the character while the rest of the film invites us to get under his skin. There is a scene in which Giuseppe Baldini (a frivolous Dustin Hoffman) is transported out of his dark cellar by one of Jean-Baptiste’s perfumes, but it is done in a rather corny way. I think that many readers of the book may be disappointed by this shortcoming.
The pacing of Perfume is another problem. A little too much time is taken up with Jean-Baptiste’s wanderings, sniffing the air, while the narration carries the story. There are parts that would have benefited by punchier editing to crank up the tension, rather than maintaining a vaguely dreamy quality throughout.
Perfume has its problems, and it is also quite generous with the sex, violence, and nudity, so prudes and blockbuster fans had best stay away. For those who are feeling adventurous, though, it is certainly worth seeing, given the fine cast, the original story, and the complex mix of genres, all delivered in an absolutely beautiful wrapper.
- Ivan Sadler
A dark and twisted fairytale about one man’s quest for beauty. It may not live up to the book, but we still smell a cult classic.
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