2007-09-04 17:26
What it’s about:

Perfume is based on the cult novel by Patrick Suskind, about a young orphan called Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Wishaw) who is born with an incredible sense of smell, a sense that dominates the way he relates to the world and other people. He leaves the orphanage to do heavy labour at a tannery, but manages to get an apprenticeship with famous perfumer Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman). Baldini helps him develop his skills at preserving scent, and sends him to France’s perfume capital. Once there, his alien desire to possess the ultimate scent leads him down a dark road of obsession and murder.

What we thought:

Tackling the task of turning a book about scents into a film has to be a daunting one and though Perfume is flawed in some senses (forgive the pun), it is still compelling viewing, although perhaps a little too odd for mainstream audiences.

Ben Wishaw is well cast as the almost alien Jean-Baptiste, who is often more like an animal than a human being, barely able (and often unwilling) to engage the rest of humanity through speech. His fatal obsession seems to be entirely instinctive, and he looks feral for most of the film - dirty, and wild eyed.

The beauty of the character, bizarre as he is, is that he gives the viewer a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a total outsider, and is rather sympathetic for it. He is not an evil man at heart - he just cannot control the purpose of his being.

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.

Michael B Jackson 2007/05/26 8:03 AM
Perfume Loved the book... was totally unaware that the film was out... after this review by Ivan Sadler (brilliantly written) I have decided to await the DVD and enjoy it in the privacy of my own home. A film like this deserves to be enjoyed with delicacy and privacy... something alien to the cinema with its nioisy, cellphone ringing and texting, sweet wrapper rustling and seat bumping ambience. Always better on the big screen? Not since plasma, baby... and you're not invited to my house...
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