Opening 14 Sep 2006
Based upon the book by Patrick Süsskind, this film is a story of both horror and beauty. Set in 1738, the opening shows the viewer a rather accurate view of life in Paris: the filth, poverty, and over-crowded accommodations of a busy market as the day progresses. When a very pregnant worker at the fish market goes into labor, no one takes notice as she slips down behind the table and to give birth, severing the umbilical cord from her newly born child herself. As she lays the shivering, bloody infant amongst the fish heads to be discarded later on in the day, we learn from the narrator that this is no new event but rather the fifth time to occur and that this little one is to be thrown away into the murky Parisian waters just like all the others. Though life will not be entirely kind to Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), for it is he lying on the ground, he will be fortunate enough to be heard when the stench of his surroundings irritate his delicate nose and bring him to screaming, therefore saving his life. As Jean-Baptiste grows, there will be many attempts on his life, not because he finds himself in the wrong places, but rather even the smallest of children detect that there is something rather different about Jean-Baptiste and, truly, there is. Jean-Baptiste learns to differentiate between all smells through his pronounced sense of smell before he can even speak, a capability that will come at a much later age. As Jean-Baptiste passes from hand to hand for the hard work he provides, he loses himself more and more the world of smell that envelops him. He finds beauty and comfort in all smells, the sweet scent of flowers, the wet earth, and even the smells of decay and death. For Jean-Baptiste, this represents comfort and companionship, something he has never known from family or humans in general. Unfortunately, he also finds the beauty in a passing woman with fiery red hair one day, captivated not by the way her body looks but by the odor it gives off. Obsessed with his discovery, he follows her home, only to accidently kill her while trying to obtain as much of her smell to memory as possible.
This will not be the last of this obsession. Luck finds its way to Jean-Baptiste one day while delivering leather to the famous perfumer Baldini (Dustin Hoffman). When given the chance, Jean-Baptiste manages to woo the older man who has obviously lost his touch with his ability to recognize the notes and ingredients to a perfume, even though he’s unable to name them. In exchange for new recipes for perfumes, Baldini takes in Jean-Baptiste to teach him all there is to know about being a perfumer. Still longing for the smell of the red-haired beauty, Grenouille travels down a hill of obsession of trying to learn how to captivate not flowers but the human scent for the perfect perfume, including a thirteenth note which will render him powerful with the new smell. He sets off in search of this journey only to come across another fiery red-haired woman with a scent to make him mad with lust. Alan Rickman (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) portrays Antoine Richis, father of Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood) who will serve to be the first of many women on Jean-Baptistes journey. Rickman does an excellent job in this role, giving it a life and feel that he seems to embody. After stumbling upon the process of conserving the human scent, Jean-Baptiste begins his hunt for the perfect smells to create his perfect perfume. Full of rich imagery, this film stays true to life at this particular time, staying as close as possible without adding or taking away from how it actually was. The music added wonderfully to the film, swelling up and rushing away the viewer at times when the movie was at its best. Such images as hundreds of crimson rose buds amongst a subdued and darkened background stay with the viewer as the film and story advances. This film, though odd at moments to say the least, was an absolute joy. Though I saw this film in German and not English, as it was originally filmed, it just makes me all the more curious to see this a second time. Worth the time and the money, I would suggest this work of art to anyone. (Kara Wahn)