Review: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Directed by Tom Tykwer
Starring Ben Wishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman
By Paul Murphy
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer: director: Tom Tykwer: starring Ben Wishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman Imagine Amadeus with perfume. This seems to sum up Tom Tykwer’sadaptation of Patrick Sueskind’s novel Perfume. Grenouille grows up in Medieval Paris, working as a tanner, but is also a young perfume prodigy/imbecile. Taken in and then instructed by master perfumer Baldini (Dustin Hofmann), who lives in a rather shaky house perched on a medieval bridge in Paris. Grenouille demonstrates a natural ability at his trade and everything is well until he decides to up the stakes by kidnapping young women, draining their bodies of much needed chemical components for his latest brands of perfumes. Baldini’s house collapses/is blown up, Grenouille flees to Grasse in Southern France which is, Baldini tells him, the centre of the perfume industry. Here he continues his trade until he is eventually captured, tortured, confesses and is sentenced to death. Predictably he escapes hanging by giving the inhabitants of Grasse a sample of his new perfume, escaping back to Paris where his scent is so alluring that the Parisians imbibe his scent and Grenouille as well. Farewell then to our prodigy/imbecile.
Grenouille has created a higher love from a list of sordid, mean, cruel acts. There is nothing intrinsically interesting about the conclusions of this novel/film, for its message was surprising when Dostoevsky completed his Crime and Punishment but after x number of existentialist re-treads of this territory, has little to say except in its capacity to complete a little shock. Just say the ends justify the means, the entire narrative makes trivial, pedestrian sense. Yes, contemporary extremists may love it, existentialists (if there are any left) may add it to their shelf of existentialist parables, but wider audiences will probably rightly reject it. Apart from some luscious visuals, a stunning evocation of medieval Paris (which is perhaps enough to justify the price of a ticket, depending on whether viewers are interested in narratives and characters or just enhanced visuals, recreations of historical epochs, sets, scenes, CGI.), the film has little to offer in terms of some of the things that matter about films: interesting, plausible characters developing interesting, plausible relationships within an interesting, plausible narrative framework. Since Grenouille, obviously a loner, cannot do any of these things, the film seems like a great big empty box of chocolates, bereft even of the music of Mozart which might have justified the price of a ticket.
Paul Murphy saw Perfume at the Duke of York cinema in Brighton.