When a child is born with an amazing sense of smell, he resorts to murder to try to capture the scent of a woman.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is a very strange film. It is an eccentric mix of a Grimm fairy tale, horror story, and period drama. This makes for an amazing movie watching experience . . .the first time you see it. It really doesn’t hold up well upon subsequent viewings. It is not a bad movie, though. It is very twisted, and that is up my alley, but it is not easily watchable more than once.
Like a dark fable, the story centers on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) a person born with a superior olfactory sense. His mother gives birth to him under a fish stall in 18th century Paris. As all her previous births had ended in stillbirth, she expects him to be stillborn as well. When he survives, his mother is sent to the gallows for abandoning her baby. This sets up the feeling for the rest of the film. Dark, tragic, and twisted. Once in an orphanage, the other orphans try to smother him in the cradle. This is not a happy film, obviously.
When he is 13, he is sent to work at a tannery where the life expectancy is 5 years. He survives and as he is delivering, he discovers a perfumery. When he helps Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) with a scent, he is apprenticed to the perfume maker. To tell more of the story would be spoiling a very strange film. Alan Rickman and Rachel Hurd-Wood also star.
Told in an obvious 3 act story structure, the opening act following his childhood, the middle act following his apprenticeship, the third act following his obsession and murders, it is more noticeable here than in most other films. When I first watched this film, the obvious 3 act structure didn’t bother me and I didn’t really notice the extreme act changes of the story. Upon this second viewing, I found it a bit jarring. While I’m sure some people would find this refreshing, I found it pulled me out of the story a bit.
What is so strange about this film is that it is narrated by John Hurt. The narration makes this film feel like a fable or fairy tale. I cannot stress the twisted enough. If is also filmed with a very bright, vibrant color scheme, which makes it look a lot like said fairy tale. Make no mistake, it is not a film for children or people with a heart condition *wink* (it’s not that bad).
It is not an overly graphic film, so have no worries about gore. There is a lot of nudity, though, so if that is up your alley, check this out. Seriously, though, this is a crazy film, like nothing I have ever seen before. It goes places that are uncomfortable to watch.
As I said, it doesn’t hold up on multiple viewings. When I first saw this film, I wasn’t a father and was not particularly disturbed by anything in this film. Now that I am a father I found the initial scene of the birth very difficult to watch, along with the scene where the orphans try to smother the baby. Obviously, I cannot stress enough that this is a strange film that pulls no punches.
Overall, it is a pretty good film. The first time I saw it, I felt it was one of the best films I had ever seen. Having re-watched it, I find that my first impression was incorrect. It is not a great film. It is a good film. I suppose on the first viewing, when everything is a mystery, it is more entertaining. If you like dark, twisted fables, check this out.
Movie ** 1/2 out of ****