Perfume is one of the best movies you have likely never seen. With a great cast, amazing acting, an interesting storyline, and some of the “dirtiest” and grittiest images ever put on film, Perfume belongs on every movie lover’s shelf.
Perfume spins the tale of a young boy, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, born in late-1700′s France, who has been given the gift of superhuman smell. Able to detect individual smells from vast distances away, he happens upon a young lady whose scent overwhelms him. Vowing to find a way to capture the essence of any scent, he becomes the apprentice of a legendary perfumer who is past his prime (played by the always entertaining Dustin Hoffman.) Utilizing the skills he has learned, he sets out to create the perfect perfume by obtaining the scent of beautiful women and extracting them into liquid form. Unfortunately, the women aren’t as enthusiastic about his goals.
In addition to Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman plays a major role in the film, and the legendary John Hurt narrates. The film is directed by Tom Tykwer, who will be known by most audiences as the director of the instant-classic Run Lola Run and the recent Clive Owen/Naomi Watts movie The International. While Perfume does not share the same type of quick-edit, high paced style of Run Lola Run, it definitely has Tykwer’s unique feel to it. Much like Run Lola Run, you will be hard pressed to find a movie that you can compare Perfume to, stylistically or otherwise.
Played by a rail-thin Ben Whishaw (of I’m Not There fame), Grenouille is an enigmatic character. His singular pursuit of various scents and attempting to preserve them is done in a way that suggest the character may have some form of mental disability, possibly a mild case of autism. Anything not related to experiencing or capturing various scents seems to be almost entirely ignored by him. His infatuations with various people appear to be based solely on their scent (or their ability to teach him how to capture scent.) He struck me as the kind of person who wouldn’t even eat if he didn’t need to do.
Visually, the movie is absolutely amazing, especially with an upscaling DVD player and an HDTV. Since the film takes place in 18th century France, nearly everything is filthy, dark, and dirty. You can feel dirt under your fingernails…this movie is that gritty. Conversely, scenes that take place with the upper class seem almost surgical in their cleanliness. Bright colours, clean people…visually, it’s like watching a different movie. Regardless of the scene, however, any colours that are present seem to pour out of the screen, with fantastic detail right down to being able to see individual grains of dirt and grime, or each stitch in an upper-class coat. The colour red plays a major role in the visuals, seemingly appearing as an indication of Grenouille’s olfactory infatuation. Overall, the sound design is great, with the exception of quiet conversations; they seem to be slightly muted and hard to understand in some scenes.
Without giving anything away, the ending certainly leaves things up for debate…there are two possible ways to interpret it. I highly recommend after the credits start rolling, you IMMEDEATLY go back to the opening scene…only then should you decide on what you think the ending means.
Perfume weighs in at just over two hours and twenty minutes, so it is a bit of an investment to watch…but it is an investment that pays off HUGE. I can’t recommend this film highly enough…find a copy of it and watch it. Hopefully, like me, you will wonder why more people haven’t experienced this masterpiece, and will encourage others to see it as well.