MOVIE: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2007)

Wow, this is, hands-down, one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen. It’s based on a novel by Patrick Suskind, which I am definitely going to have to track down and read ASAP, and had a plot description I thought sounded intriguing (serial killer in 18th century France), but which I had no idea would turn into something this completely gorgeous and strange.

It’s the (fictional) story of a young Frenchman named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille who, since birth, has had an extraordinarily sensitive nose. He was raised in an orphanage, unloved and unseen, but when he grows up, he comes to realize his greatest desire in life is to find a way to capture all the millions of scents he encounters every day. Eventually, he turns this desire into an obsession with perfume, becoming the apprentice to a famous perfumer named Baldini (Dustin Hoffman). But though Baldini teaches him how to distill flowers into essential oils and combine them with alcohol to create perfumes and colognes, Grenouille soon discovers this method can’t preserve the scene he most wants to save — the scent of a beautiful woman.

The first time Jean-Baptiste smells a gorgeous woman, he ends up following her home. When she notices him hovering behind her, sniffing at her hair, she screams, leading him to clamp his hand over her mouth in an attempt to quiet her. And quiet her it does — but good! When he realizes he’s just killed her, he feels very little in response. Instead, he decides this may be the perfect way to keep women still and quiet long enough for him to figure out how to preserve the way they smell. Yep, dude’s a few tracks short of a full iPod, so to speak.

Baldini once told him that a good perfume contains 12 “chords,” or scent combinations, and so Grenouille sets out to take the odors of 12 separate women. One by one, he begins to conk the prettiest girls in town over the head and then capture their scents. But his project — a perfume so perfect it will finally make the world notice and adore him — won’t be completed until he gets the smell of the most gorgeous woman who ever lived, the young, beautiful Laura (whose father is played by Alan Rickman, incidentally).

Though it was originally described to me as a movie about a serial killer in France, which sounds fairly pedestrian, all things considered, it’s SO much more than that. For one thing, it’s far more like a fable or a fairy tale than anything else — and it’s filmed so gorgeously, you can’t help but sense this almost magical fairy tale aspect from virtually the opening frame. Even when elements of the acting weren’t fully engaging me (and there were a few of those times — I confess Rickman and Hoffman were not actually all that good in this film, though the actor playing Grenouille, Ben Wishaw, was absolutely perfect), the film itself was so beautifully put together I hardly minded. And while it’s definitely a movie about violence (he does kill over 12 women, after all!), there isn’t a single drop of blood in this movie, which, as with Disturbia (the movie I just reviewed before this one,) I found kind of refreshing.

It’s certainly a VERY WEIRD movie, but it’s weird in an utterly mesmerizing way. I couldn’t take my eyes off this film, and I just thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. So, if you’re in the mood for something different and lovely and strange, I’d definitely recommend this one (I think I’ll be watching it again quite soon myself, actually — I’m sure there are a lot of things I missed the first time around, as smitten as I was with the scenery and colors!). And watch for a review of the novel soon in Meg’s Book Reviews — I just put a copy on hold at the library and hope to get my hands on it soon.

[Buy it| Rent it]

Genre: Um, I have no idea. Drama doesn’t seem right. Fantasy, no. Fairy Tale, kind of. Thriller, not really. Horror, certainly not. Comedy, couldn’t be further from it. I’m at a loss for a descriptive genre term here. We’ll just call it “Fiction” and move on.

Cast: Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood

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11 Responses to “MOVIE: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2007)”

  1. Alisa Says:

    I absolutly loved this movie when I 1st saw it. And the ending is UNBELIEVABLE.

  2. estella Says:

    Yuck. The description of this makes the feminist in me want to take to the streets, but I understand the fairy-tale/theatrical nature is supposed to make it all okay. Sigh..

    I think I *almost* understand, because it sounds a lot like “Titus”, which had unspeakable violence towards women, yet it was more commentary and very stylized and theatrical.

  3. megwood Says:

    Well, really, the character is a little more complicated with the ladies than I made it sound here.

    But, yeah, it’s definitely not a movie about girl power, that’s for sure! Then again, most serial killers movies are about the murders of women, and there’s a reason for that!

  4. iman Says:

    its the perfume of love, its a description of how we humans also cent love. we humans are also animals we choose over perfect choice of love by over smell, its a move of a great lover who loves his perfume than his true love..

  5. megwood Says:

    Wow, I couldn’t disagree more with iman’s comment. It’s not a movie about love AT ALL. To me, that’s like saying Ted Bundy was a “great lover,” which I think is simplifying things to a rather disturbing degree! Grenouille is nothing short of the spawn of the devil, really (and I’m not even exaggerating that — in legend, the devil’s spawn have no scent, just like Grenouille himself). All he wants is to be SEEN (and possibly worshipped — hard to know how complex to make his desires), and he knows if he can capture the smell of great beauty, he’ll never want for attention ever again. It has absolutely nothing to do with love — love is a concept Grenouille has no awareness of in any way. He’s never seen it or experienced it or felt it. It’s completely meaningless.

    Dang, iman, did we watch the same movie??

  6. patrick Says:

    Saw Perfume recently, well done in general, good character building, original cinematography… expresses a lot about human nature as well.

  7. davka Says:

    yeah estella, fuck this. violence towards women is always ok if its done tastefully and artfully.

  8. megwood Says:

    Have you actually seen the movie, davka?

  9. Roxie Says:

    I saw this last night and absolutely hated it.
    Beautifully done? Yes
    Fairytale like quality? Undoubtedly
    Well acted? Nearly w/o question!

    But I hated the main character and I hated the ending.

  10. AJ Says:

    Just tripped over this review looking to find a synopsis to send to a friend. I have been a fan of this movie since I saw it about a year or so ago and your review fits this movie perfectly! I haven’t read the book yet but it’s on my list to do. This movie was beautifully disturbing in a non-gory way. However, I guess I am in the minority as in general I see books, TV and movies as entertainment and not as anything else. It was a fascinating story. You want to look away because it’s wrong (as if you have to question whether or not a serial killer killing ANYONE is wrong) but you can’t because the story is so unreal is just keeps sucking you in. It’s a good watch … maybe not so good for trying to make more of it than the piece of fiction that it is.

  11. Lovisa Says:

    Actually, I think iman is right in a way, although he is not a great lover at ALL, it is a story about love. Not as much as it is a story about desire (and loneliness, btw), perhaps, but still. He does feel a sort of love for the plum girl – at first it is only about her scent, but later – and by later I am mostly referring to the naked final scene where he imagines how it would be if he could actually feel love, and be loved in return. It becomes clear that that is what he wanted all along – not being worshiped – but being loved.

    It’s also actually why he killed himself, if somebody missed that.
    “There was only one thing the perfume could not do. It could not turn him into a person who could love and be loved like everyone else. So to hell with it he thought…”
    So even though Jean-Baptiste did not feel love – that was (partly) what the movie was about. Plus – the perfume he made was sort of a “liquid love”.

    Anyway, it was a wonderful movie – perhaps one of the best I’ve ever seen. I have seen it five times (three of them the first 24 h after i rented it, haha) because it made such a strong impression on me. But I feel quite strange for feeling compassion with Jean-Baptiste (yes, I cried like a baby when he died). It is not only the fact that he has no scent, and therefore no soul, but also the circumstances (him being “supernatural” and an outcast, his mother getting killed, the tannery etc.) that makes him kill all those women.

    Damn, that was a ridiculously long comment 😛

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