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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Based upon the novel by Patrick Suskind, 'Das Parfum', director Tom Tykwer brings to screen a story that some thought was unfilmable, because much of the novel is explained through the sense of smell -- an experience that can be difficult to express on-screen. The tale is of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man born in the 1700's in Paris with a singular gift: a supernatural sense of smell.

Grenouille's olfactory powers are so keen he experiences the world mainly through his sense of smell. He becomes obsessed with creating an ultimate perfume, of capturing forever the scent of pure innocence and beauty. Judging by the title, his quest takes a dark turn.

First off, I have to say that this is one of the most unique films I've ever seen. The story is engrossing, and a wonderful period piece to boot. Without giving much away, I would say that this film is probably not for everyone. If nudity upsets you, this is not the film for you. What nudity that Perfume does have is tastefully done, and necessary to the story.

Perfume also contains some disturbing scenes as well. While I would classify the film as 'horror' to some degree, there's no gore to be seen at all. The theme is particularly haunting, and director Tom Tykwer captures the effect that smells can have on the characters with some interesting editing.

The acting is also top notch by everyone -- including Dustin Hoffman as an Italian perfume-maker. This has got to be one of my new favorite films -- Perfume is sensuous and disturbing all at the same time. The main character is difficult to parse -- should we feel sorrow for him, or contempt? It's easy to feel a bit of both.

Grenouille's early life is harsh, starting with his mother attempting to murder him just moments after his birth. She's a fishmonger in downtown Paris. She grunts, births him, and then kicks him underneath her stall. The narrator (John Hurt) explains that her last three babies were stillborn, and she expected Grenouille to be no different.

We then cut to the blood-spattered infant who (according to the narrator) 'had other plans'. The infant's sense of smell is assaulted by the horrific smells of Paris: rotting fish, vomit, garbage and offal. The baby cries, and the Parisians nearby rescue him, but hang his mother in outrage.

Now an orphan, Grenouille is sent to an orphanage where he defies the odds of his surviving again and again -- each time his would-be protector dying just moments after they give up custody of him. The orphanage matron sells Grenouille to a tanner, and is mugged and murdered moments later.

And so it goes with Grenouille, in a fairytale fashion, until he meets Dustin Hoffman's character, a master Italian perfumer whose star has fallen. Grenouille displays his supernatural sense of smell by unerringly reproducing the perfume of a rival perfumer. Hoffman's character hides his amazement behind admonishments that the young boy knows nothing. Grenouille adds a few more oils to the perfume and says, "That was a good perfume. Try this one. This is a really, really great perfume." This infuriates Hoffman even more, who sends the boy away.

But he smells the perfume, and when he does Twyker visually represents the effect of the perfume brilliantly. The master perfumer is instantly (and visually) swept away to an Italian garden filled with light and warmth, and a women with dark, lustrous hair approaches him from behind and whispers in his ear, "... I love you."

Naturally, Hoffman takes Grenouille on as an apprentice, but the movie eventually takes a dark turn. On Grenouille's first day in Paris he encountered a beautiful peasant girl selling lemons. He follows her using his sense of smell, wanting only to experience her. She's frightened by him, screams, and Grenouille panics and holds her mouth shut until a passing couple passes out of earshot, killing her in the process.

Grenouille, in his innocence, takes in her scent in a ravenous (and perhaps unsettling) way, until her scent fades. This is when Grenouille experiences death -- her scent was unique, and he becomes obsessed with recreating the scent, or at least discovering a way to preserve a person's scent forever.

His obsession leads to some scary (but not gory) places. Throughout the story, a person's scent represents their soul. In the same way that the scent (soul) of a rose petal can be distilled down into its essence, an 'essential oil', Grenouille seeks to do the same with women. Feminists would have a field day with this film, as it objectifies women even as it exalts their inherent power.

Will Grenouille succeed in creating a perfume that is the essence of love and beauty?

Visually, it's a great-looking film also, as Grenouille journeys to Grasse, the place where perfume-making is the main industry, and we see fields of lavender marching off into the distance. I highly recommend this film to people who are looking for something out of the ordinary. As such, I give this film my highest rating to date.

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