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Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer - Review

Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

PATRICK Suskind’s novel Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer became a publishing phenomenon after it first appeared in 1985, selling over 15 million copies worldwide.

But the book, which chronicles the life of the brilliant and murderous perfumer Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, has been deemed unfilmable by many because of its graphic content.

Several directors have been linked to the project (from Ridley Scott to Tim Burton), yet it’s German filmmaker Tom Tykwer who finally brings it to the big screen.

The result remains vigorously faithful to the source material and, as a result, is likely to divide audiences straight down the middle, especially in light of its jaw-dropping finish.

But it’s a bold and often brilliant piece of work that rewards morbid fascination with some cracking performances and a truly unique experience.

Set in 18th Century Paris, the film picks up as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born and immediately abandoned in undignified circumstances in the middle of a fish market.

Saved from near-certain death, Grenouille grows into a man (played by Ben Whishaw) with a super-refined sense of smell, despite being odourless himself, who finds work as an apprentice to master perfumer Baldini (Dustin Hoffman).

As he develops an obsession with bottling female scent, however, he heads to perfume capital Grasse, where he turns to murder to pursue his infatuation only to raise the attention of a wealthy merchant father (Alan Rickman), who suspects his own daugher (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is at risk.

Tykwer’s film may sound like an 18th Century version of a Hannibal Lecter movie but it neatly sidesteps such easy comparisons to maintain an identity all of its own.

Visually, it’s quite astounding, offsetting the stale stench of the Paris backstreets (shot in dour greys) with the lush colours of the fragrant French countryside.

Such contrasts serve to make the violence more abhorrent but crucially Tykwer’s camera never lingers over the more graphic nature of the deaths (unlike the novel), pausing only to allow Grenouille the chance to admire each new scent.

As a result, audiences will find themselves enthralled by the direction the story takes them in, as well as stunned by the audacious spectacle of its conclusion.

Performance-wise, Whishaw turns Grenouille into a fascinating villain, displaying an almost primal instinct when choosing his victims, yet somehow retaining a sense of humanity. He relies on looks more than words but manages to transmit a range of emotions.

Stalwart thesps Hoffman and Rickman are also typically colossal – the former giving rise to several amusing moments as he seeks to utilise Grenouille’s talent, and the latter providing a wily adversary.

Fans of the novel should therefore delight in the fact that Tykwer has had the courage to keep Suskind’s vision intact, while newcomers will watch with awe or disgust as he allows proceedings to run their course.

No matter which side they ultimately fall, it’s well worth picking up the scent.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 27mins