Friday, August 10, 2007

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) directed this new German thriller. There are no jump out at you scares in this, just a long twisted plot, with the main character's actions difficult to fully wrap your mind around. It's interesting because much of the movie is utterly absurd, but in the context of the world that's created, not terribly out of place.

Perfume is split up into two acts, the first being the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille's (Ben Whishaw) childhood, and early working life. It's established that he has an uncanny sense of smell- perhaps the best in the world. After a series of grueling jobs, he finally becomes apprenticed by Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) a master perfumer. Grenouille helps Baldini recapture his glory by creating an endless stream of fantastic perfumes, and in return, Baldini helps in his ultimate quest- to preserve scent. Grenouille wants to capture the scents from everything- especially in what becomes the focus of the story; the scents of women.

In the second act, Grenouille has learned everything he can from Baldini, and sets off on his own to the perfume capital of the world- Grasse, in hopes of finally learning how to capture scent. Here is where the movie starts to take a dark turn, and Grenouille starts murdering women in his experiments to gather scent and create the perfect perfume. Alan Rickman joins the cast here as Richis, the father of Grenouille's ultimate goal, Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood).

This is a thriller in that it's a story about murder. The audience is never in question as to who is doing it, however. The tension more lies in the question of whether Grenouille will finish his masterpiece before he is found out. Sometimes it's difficult to really care, however, because he is in general an unlikeable character. Grenouille is so driven by his obsession that it doesn't even seem to occur to him that he is killing people. A character like that- especially a main character, is very difficult to empathize with.

There are only occasional times in the movie where Grenouille really has any depth. There is a scene early on where he is in complete isolation, and realizes he has no scent of his own. This is where he starts to contemplate his own existence. Here there are feelings of isolation resulting from being a societal outcast. Unfortunately, after that scene this topic is not really touched on again. Ultimately, the movie ends with a rather unsettling, yet unsatisfying conclusion.

The scenes between Dustin Hoffman and Whinshaw are the best in the movie. The dynamic the two of them have- Hoffman being the stern master, and Whinshaw being the genius but ignorant student- are brilliant, and even more tense than the later parts of the movie. Unfortunately, this relationship is done before the movie is half over. I wish the second act could have been on par with these early scenes, but it just wasn't.

Watch the Trailer


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