Original Review Date: 1/6/2007
There are two types of reviews that can be written about Perfume: The Story of a Murderer: a review from a person that has read the book by Patrick Suskind and then watched this film and a review from a person fresh to the material who has never read or even heard of Suskind’s book. This review of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is from the former. A small prologue before the review: The instant I heard that a film was going to be made about this book and read about its subject matter; I went out and bought the book, so intrigue by the Suskind’s concept and the ideas behind them.
Now the review: The concept for the film and the book that spawned it is simple; a boy is born in France during the 18th-century, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, with an extreme sense of smell but who possesses absolutely no body odor of his own. Bear in mind, this is quite an achievement in an age of no deodorant and disease that precursed Joseph Lister and his ideas on antiseptics. After one of the grossest births in film history and a harsh upbringing, Grenouille smells from a distance and tracks down a girl with the perfect scent while working for a tannery he has been sold to. If you’ve seen the first teaser trailer for this film, you’ve already seen a big chunk of the resulting scene. Grenouille inadvertently kills the girl he tracked down while trying to keep her quite, setting in motion the film’s real plot: Grenouille’s quest to recapture (or recreate if need be) the dead girl’s scent at any cost.
There are many characters in Perfume but besides Grenouille, the second most important performer is a human’s sense of smell and the odors of the 18th-century. Director Tom Tykwer shows the viewer in microscopic detail the daily grim and filth the people of this century exist in and have to contend with. From the book: “The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of moldering wood and rat droppings…People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth.” Tykwer does a very good job of showing the viewer as much of this as possible in his film. But in Suskind’s book, you are also given a detailed accounting of the abundant diseases that are commonly held by them and details of a rank graveyard, Cimetiere des Innocents, during a particularly hot summer in Paris. It is in the food market eventually erected over this graveyard, “the most putrid spot in the whole kingdom, that Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born on July 17, 1738.” Everyone knows when a book is translated into film, plot elements will be dropped for any number of reasons (except Sin City) and this case is no different. Certain key characters deaths have been modified because of runtime constraints while some remain exactly the same as they are in the book.
After meeting Dustin Hoffman’s Giuseppe Baldini, a perfumer that teaches Grenouille everything he knows about the art of making perfume, including the twelve steps to making a perfect perfume, which Giuseppe likens to creating a piece of music, Grenouille travels to and arrives at a town that holds all of the elements he needs to recreate his perfect scent. One of these elements is a girl so beautiful that her own father, Antoine Richis, played by Alan Rickman, wishes that she wasn’t his daughter so that he could be with her (another omitted part from the film in Suskind’s book). She, Laura Richis, played by Rachel Hurd-Wood, is the final note in Grenouille’s scent masterpiece and thankfully for Richis, the most illusive.
The ending to Tom Tykwer’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer will be controversial to some, irritate others, be a perfect extension of the presented material to a few and to those that have read the book, be a mere duplication of the ending that transpired there. Perfume is a very entertaining film with a unique main character, a killer who exists in a rancid society with no odor and no remorse of his own.