Like a bottle of wine that needs to breathe, Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run, The Princess and the Warrior) new film Perfume: the story of a murderer can be best enjoyed after soaking in the flavors, colors and scents. Like the book (by Patrick Süskind) the film shouldn't be consumed all at once.
Like a perfume, which offers three stages of scents, the film starts with gritty, dark beginnings of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) as a baby with the uncanny ability to smell. His almost superhuman olfactory ability leads him on a most unusual upbringing in 17th century Paris.
In a period when Paris represented one of foulest smelling regions on the planet the few perfumists enjoyed almost rock star status. Grenouille bounces from orphanage to enslaved employee when he begins an apprenticeship of sorts with washed up Italian perfumer Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman). Grenouille then uses his uncanny ability to create the next perfume sensation.
Grenouille becomes manic about recreating any smell, even that of humans, in perfume form. His obsession to create the perfect scent leads him to the French countryside where they use a technique used to produce special perfume. As he learns the craft his obsession mounts as he kills the young village women of the village to create a series of the ultimate perfumes. The city goes into panic mode to apprehend this apparent serial killer but his motivation goes beyond pure murder. In fact, it has to do more with pure love. The perfume he creates and eventually uses on others offers incredible results.
People have called this book unfilmable but director Tykwer handles the story with his own magic touches. He provides the dark undertones from the offset, offering scents via startlingly graphic visuals. Since the audience can't smell the images Tykwer uses other senses sights, sound music to evoke the films scent. Few films can illicit such varied emotions. Grenouille represents a dichotomy of innocence and sinisterism. At points the film delves into the physical depths of society but also to the emotional and psychological underworld as well. A cocktail with depth and complexity offers different sensations with the first whiff and when first touching the lips but changes subtly during the finish. So too does this film as it pours a complex array of emotions from fear to obsession.
Ben Whishaw turns in a multilayered performance as Grenouille. This relative unknown stage actor plays the part with such emotion as to give the film a far reaching energy. Oftentimes, he's acting alone but he still manages to illicit a realistic and compelling character. The performers notch as first, except surprisingly Dustin Hoffman's turn as Giuseppe Baldini His portrayal never sits right, as if he was overacting and improvising his part just a bit too much. The normally solid Alan Rickman seems awkward as well in his part as Richis. Aside from these acting / casting missteps, Tykwer has crafted an atmospheric piece that alters the senses. People may talk about particular elements but the film smells oh so sweet when enjoyed in full.