Sunday, August 12, 2007
Follow that scent...
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is our latest Saturday night movie, and it is based on the 1985 novel by Patrick Süskind (novel "Das Parfum").
This unique film chronicles the life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who is born into the poorest of poor conditions during the mid-18th century in Paris, and has been blessed, or perhaps cursed, with an uncanny sense of smell. In fact, his olfactory sense so overwhelms him that he is driven to create the most beautiful scent on earth. Unfortunately, he is also a sociopath and his methods are shockingly gruesome.
Part horror movie and part mythical tale, this is the story of how Grenouille finds his way to Grasse, the perfume capital, and proceeds to become a serial killer in his quest to create the perfect perfume. He is a homicidal collector, like an animal on the trail of a specific scent.
The movie was made lavishly; the scenes where either monstrously vile or beautifully scenic, the stark difference between the horrible conditions in which most lived and the opulence enjoyed by a few. There are more extras in this film than I've ever seen before. The scenes were shot in France, but much of the background is Barcelona, a city which retains far more of it's 18th century look than Paris, which was completely rebuilt in the following century.
Ben Whishaw, as Grenouille, succeeded in making me very nervous. His merciless manner, unshakable purpose, and the way he would seem to be, alternately, a curious boy and a violent murderer kept me on edge the whole time. Grenouille is so far and away the most important character in this story, that it doesn't seem to matter, at least to me, who filled the other parts, though the other parts were also executed very well.
The ending is most unusual.
Tom Tykwer directed the film, and has pointed out that this unusual story contains the universal themes of a longing for recognition, and the idea that there's a genius hiding inside of everyone that would stun the world, if only it were revealed.
I admire this excellent review by Jay Richardson. He gives a more detailed account of the plot as well as some other interesting information.
Speaking of interesting information, Das Parfum, a bestseller in 1985, is the most successful German Language novel since All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque.
Also, incidentally, the late Kurt Cobain named it as one of his favorite novels, and it was the inspiration of his 1993 song "Scentless Apprentice."
Some of the Cast:
Ben Whishaw ... Jean-Baptiste Grenouille
Dustin Hoffman ... Giuseppe Baldini
Rachel Hurd-Wood ... Laura
Alan Rickman ... Richis
John Hurt ... Narrator (voice)