I remember seeing the trailer for this film with a friend of mine. When it was over, we both turned to each other and said "that looks stupid". So, when the DC Film Society offered an advanced screening of this film, I took full advantage to see this picture... even though I knew it would be stupid... but I wouldn't have to pay to have that conclusion confirmed.
I have to admit that I was a bit curious about the movie, so I waited an hour in line for my free pass, and sat in the theater next to women who took the title literally and marinated in cologne, and an obnoxious 12 year old who complained throughout the whole movie that there were no black people in it.
The film opens with grisly and graphic images of the streets of 18th Century Paris -- eviscerated fish, a new-born fresh from the womb, and general filth all around (makes one grateful "smell-a-vision" isn't mainstream). Anyway, our narrator, John Hurt, compliments the visuals with poetic verbiage that provides insight into the thoughts and motivations of our protagonist Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Wishaw: Layer Cake), a boy of few words -- but what he lacks in verbal expression, he makes up in olfactory reception. In fact, his ability to smell far surpasses any ability of any human on this earth. Like a blood-hound, Grenouille soaks up smells like a sponge, trying to sate his hunger to capture every odor in the world, but his hunger begins to devour him and Grenouille becomes obsessed with possessing every aroma that exists -- or yet to exist.
Born into literal squalor, raised in an orphanage, and later sold off into slavery, Grenouille becomes the apprentice to declining master perfumer Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), who realizes that he can use Grenouille's extraordinary abilities to create scents that will enthrall Paris and make him prosperous again. After a while, Grenouille realizes that he can go only so far with his master, as Baldini can not teach him the things he desires most; how to bottle human scent. Yearning to extract the perfumes of the human body, Grenouille travels to the Provence region to seek out new smells and skills.
However, things turn dangerous when he follows his nose and becomes possessed with collecting the essences of women to make the perfect perfume, primarily that of Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood, the daughter of a wealthy merchant (Alan Rickman), who is fiercely protective of her. This is where Grenouille becomes totally absorbed in his quest to capture the human scent. He kills women and collects their essences in the same manner used to distill the oils from the flowers used making perfume.
The remainder of the film shows the people of Provence trying to solve the murders and capture the killer. The pace picks up a little and we get to see much more of Rickman, who turns in the movie's strongest performance, although the entire cast plays admirably.
As the title implies, this film is a story of murder... and there several; the first one is an accidental killing of a girl selling plums in the streets of Paris. That killing stands out, not because it was the first one, but because he spends a bit of time sniffing her exposed corpse trying to imprint her scent into his memory. It's a disturbing and somewhat laughable scene. However, it illustrates how gripped he is with trying to ensnare personal savor.
Now what I will remember is the ending, which is memorable for many reasons, but mainly for an orgy sequence that will force arguable comparisons to Caligola. I personally thought it was daft and half the theater groaned and along with me.
The film is long, 2 hours and 20 minutes, actually. It vascilates between disgusting, beautiful, dark humor, and all around creepy. Still, I found myself liking some aspects (the acting, photography, narration), but hating others. Readers of the Patrick Suskind novel (on which the movie is based) who were at the screening tended to vary in their opinions as well. Some felt that the film was true to the book, and of course there were those who felt that the film failed to capture the book's intrinsic nature..
Regardless, I still thought that Perfume was stupid, but not so much as I had originally feared, but I am grateful I didn't pay any money for it.
Czarina's First Date Rating: I rate this movie B; which means if I saw it on a first date I would*:
* Czarina does not give blow jobs on the first date... (often).
Czarina's Captious Compliment of Caustic Comment: Perfume is no Chanel No. 5.
Czarina: The Story of a Murderer of Bad Films
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