Based on Patrick Suskind's novel about a serial killer who hunts victims with his superhuman sense of smell, Perfume: Story of a Murderer
is a florid, grisly portrayal of this historical drama set in 18th century France. Jean-Baptiste Grunuis (Ben Whishaw) is born under his mother's table at the fish market, onto a pile of muddy fish guts, establishing from the beginning his repulsion for putrid scents. A childhood of neglect and, later, a job at a tannery, encourage Jean-Baptiste to develop his olfactory sense rather than his verbal skills, so that an opportunity to prove his worth to Parisian perfumist, Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), results in his immediate hire into a promising new career. His successes in perfume mixing are negated by a blinding obsession for capturing the sublime beauty of human soul, which in his twisted logic requires the killing of young women to reduce their body fats to essential oils for the ultimate, cannibalized eau de parfum. An omniscient narrator tells the story with much sympathy for Jean-Baptiste's perverted psychology, making it, often, too obvious that his need for love justifies his murderous desire to capture misguided sexual attractions in a vile. Continuous close-ups of Grunius's nose, countered by close-ups of the places and objects he smells, enhance the viewer's understanding of his sensitivity. Repeated comparisons are made between the killer and dogs who aid, then expose his sick experimentation. The settings are fascinating, especially Baldini's perfumery and some later scenes in enflorage factories outside Provence. Whishaw's and Hoffman's performances are both grand. But Perfume
unnecessarily spells out Jean-Baptiste's psychosis, squelching any chance for metaphor. This is unfortunate, considering the story's paradoxical nature. As this crude hunter navigates his way through a world of utmost delicacy, one craves ambiguity rather than explanation. --Trinie Dalton
Tale of murder and intrigue explores the under-reported sense of smell in a tale from the blockbuster novel by Patrick Süsskind. Grenouille is a baby born into squalor. Uniquely, he is born with no scent of his own - causing his own mother and a string of surrogate mothers to shun him. The result of his not having a smell, however, is that he develops the strongest sense of smell imaginable. He becomes apprentice to a famed perfumer (Dustin Hoffman) who hones his craft and makes his fortune from the talented waif. Obsessed with wringing the essence out of anything with a smell, the idea soon occurs to Grenouille that a beautiful, fine smelling woman might make the perfect tea bag for a vat of wonderful perfume. Things take a dark turn for the smell-free youth, however and, in his quietly desperate, compulsive search for new odours, nothing can stand between him and the scents he wishes to acquire.