Saturday, January 13, 2007

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Smell Me

Perfume is a queer movie. In fact, I'm tempted to say it almost falls into the same fantasy like genre as Mirrormask or Pan's Labyrinth, except that it's darker, has more black humour, and takes itself at times very seriously. Based on a novel by Patrick Suskind, Perfume at first looks like those biographical type movies where you trace the development of a perfumer, and if you've seen the trailers, it joins the gore movies with its totally warped plot development.

Director Tom Tykwer has piled on plenty of visual repulsiveness in this movie, in order to highlight the importance of scent. If there is one movie to be used as a platform for those next generation cinemas like the incorporation of smell-o-rama gimmicks, then Perfume will be the perfect candidate. You have both ends of the smell spectrum covered, from the foulest stench on the streets, to the beautiful scent of a woman.

And it is this unique, pretty scent that Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) wants to capture. Born in a uniquely different manner (you have to see to believe) and brought up in the worst possible manner in early France, the man grows to be a perfumer wannabe blessed with a gift of superior scent, and you know that given the many close up shots of his nose. However, his IQ is a bit suspect, as he goes around with that heavy brooding look, and is obsessed with the singular goal of preserving wonderful smells, from women, for all eternity.

There's almost an entire hour dealing with his development as a perfumer, learning from one of the best in the business - Italian Giuseppe Baldini (played by Dustin Hoffman), as both mentor and protege develop a symbiotic relationship - the junior wishing to learn the craft, while the senior lacking in inspiration, seeks new ideas and concoctions from his latest pupil. Although Hoffman turns on his charismatic charm, much of this area turned out to drag the narrative flow.

Things picked up though, with the Jack The Ripper-ish moments, as Jean-Baptiste hones his instincts to gather his perfect tools for the trade - that of 12 vials of scents, from beautiful women. His ultimate prize catch is Laura Richis (Rachel Hurd-Wood), whom you'd think he had develop romantic feelings for. But this is a man, as mentioned, with questionable IQ and incredible career obsession, so what happens really, just boggles the minds, just as it did the villagers. The final act treads on the fantastical and the implausible, but that's what makes this movie queer. Of course I'm not complaining with what's on screen, but felt that the resolution for the character was somewhat akin to a Chinese martial arts character Du Gu Qiu Bai (Literally translated as "Lonely, Seeking Defeat") - what do you do when you've achieved your goals and attained what you wanted to attain, becoming untouchable in the process?

It's my first movie watching Ben Whishaw in action, and I thought this guy could express himself without the need of speaking too much. Rachel Hurd-Wood definitely looked like she's older than 18, and her chemistry with Ålan Rickman, who plays her father, actually resembled one of her movies last year - American Haunting. It doesn't help that both movies are period movies though.

Rated R21, there are gratuitous nudity and scenes with adequate gore. I thought the scenes with Jean-Baptiste as a newborn was excellent, and I suspect that a fake baby was used to film it - a scene which will definitely make you go "eewww" instead of "aawww". Final verdict - I'll say this one totes the middle ground.

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