Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Drama Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

A very fine line rests between absurdity and believability. Where a storyteller draws that line depends greatly on the universe created around their story. Sometimes that line is forgotten and discarded in the third act of a film as most recently seen in De Palma’s The Black Dahlia or most movies with a surprise twist. Occasionally though, a film’s ending will border on ludicrous and insanity, like a fantastical, fairy tale ending in a gritty, tough crime drama, almost as if the writer just didn’t know how to end it. Unfortunately, that’s the ultimate downfall of Tom Tykwer’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

Set against the backdrop of 18th Cenutry Paris, Perfume revolves around Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who’s unmatched sense of smell and rough, anti-social upbringing has made him an outcast to normal society. Aimlessly wandering through life with no particular ambition, Jean-Baptiste discovers the scent of a beautiful, young woman and from that moment on, becomes obsessed with capturing a woman’s scent. Without any regard to human life, Jean-Baptiste attempts numerous means of capturing that particular scent and eventually becomes a wanted murderer.

Initially, Perfume is fascinating both visually and stylistically and despite some minor missteps, moves at an efficient pace. However, not once, did I ever sympathize or identify with the characters or their situations. The character development is thin and the actors who portray them aren’t completely convincing but regardless, I strangely liked it, particularly when Jean-Baptiste encounters Giuseppe Bladini (played by Dustin Hoffman).

The section of the film where Giuseppe takes Jean-Baptiste under his wing are the best scenes in the film, largely due to Dustin Hoffman’s performance. Unlike everyone around him, he’s over-the-top and fun, never taking the character or the story too seriously. Ben Whishaw, who plays Jean-Baptiste, is simply a blank for most of the film until his final scenes. Whishaw never makes you feel anything for this character and although the story is promising, the character himself is just uninteresting. The most disappointing aspect was Alan Rickman’s underwhelming performance. I’ve been a huge fan of his for years now and he seems so bored and disinterested. I never believed in his character and never felt anything for him, even at his most tragic moment. Very disappointing.

Although Cinematographer Frank Griebe excels and the illusion of 18th centruy france is exquistely done, the film never has any emotional weight. You never believe in any of the characters or empathize or sympathize. You simply feel nothing. Despite the unineresting characters, the film still held my attention but returning to my initial point, the ending completely loses me.

The film takes itself so seriously that when the conclusion comes, instead of being powerful and provocative, it is downright silly. Whishaw finally shines in this scene but what happens around him and how he meets his fate is utterly ridiculous. Instead of touched or blown away, I felt cheated. It’s not a bad film, it just isn’t a very good one. If anything, watch it mainly for Dustin Hoffman and the beautiful cinematography, otherwise, I’m on the fence about recommending it.

2 thoughts on “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”

  1. I fully agree with your review, the movie started out like it was going to be such an interesting thing, and then just died…I really would not recommend it, though the quirky, and richly filmed opening and a few scenes creates that fence of which you speak at the end.

  2. A high-budget flop. Gregory has distilled the essence of the film’s flaws, just as Grenouille attempts to distill the essence of the women who have the misfortune of crossing his path.

    It’s sad to see a high-budget period film with such a flawed premise. The protagonist is completely unsympathetic, which goes against all precepts of good screen writing. There is an attempt to connect his reptilian qualities via his surname and his fish-market birth (Grenouille means frog in French).

    But exposure to intense smells at an early age cannot begin to explain his over-developed olfactory abilities. He comes across more like a Sci-Fi crossbred than a human being with uncanny powers, so suspension of disbelief is very quickly lost.

    In the end, you just cannot care enough about Grenouille or what becomes of him to enjoy the film. The only thing that keeps you watching is to see how it ends, and it ends absurdly, leaving you feeling short-changed about the whole premise.

    Curious that actors the stature of Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman would choose to appear in this film. And with so many good screenplays going unproduced each year, I can only wonder what inspired the producers to fund this film. The only thing noteworthy about it is the beautiful cinematography.

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