The first film of 2007 smells. All right, not literally. But it felt like someone was trying to rub salt in the wound as a whole film about the power of scent is shown to a girl whose nose is bunged up with a left-over Christmas cold.
But anyway, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, is based on the best selling novel ‘Das Parfum’ by Patrick Suskind. It tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a young chap born into grotty Paris with a remarkably fantastic sense of smell. His talent allows him to create spell-binding perfumes, but his real passion is the luxurious scent of a woman (well, we do smell nice, don’t we) and he becomes obsessed with finding a way to capture the smell. Unfortunately for us women, the best way to capture the smell involves whacking us over the head and wrapping up our dead bodies in animal fat. Mmm.
The lead is young Brit Ben Whishaw, whose credits include Layer Cake, Enduring Love and ‘Pingu’ off Nathan Barley. He manages to portray a freakish murderer with huge dollops of naivety, holding his wincingly scrawny body awkwardly, portraying most of his feelings without speech and making me want to cuddle him (is that wrong?) Considering he was probably told ‘act like you’re smelling nice things’ for about 90% of the film, he does a damn good job, and carries the long, dialogue-free portions of the film with surprising ease.
But making a film all about smells has its difficulties. Smell-o-vision has yet to be invented (why is that? We have 3-D, even the implausible 4-D rides at Disney – why no smell-o-vision eh?) so you’d expect a film that revolves so heavily around the idea of scent to employ some interesting tactics to convey the right pongs to the audience. Unfortunately, a huge creative opportunity is missed, and we instead get close ups of things in slow motion. Look, he smells fish – close up of a fish – look, he smells woman – close up of a woman’s hair – look, he smells shit – close up of… well, you get the point. Granted, it points out what he’s smelling, but after two hours of the same technique you start to tire. There are so many visual and aural tools available that could have brought this film to life, making the audience experience a rich, interesting world, mirroring Jean-Baptiste’s experiences. But instead we just get close-ups.
A few other niggles may include the common; ‘aye up I is a cock-erny Parisian’ and the inclusion of Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman playing themselves. Again. Also the kindly old-man narration that handily explains lots of things and makes it sound like a children’s story. With a tale like this there are many directions they could have taken, some of them interesting and different and darkly daring. They didn’t go for those. Instead they went for safe. Which doesn’t produce a bad film, just not an outstanding one.
And this isn’t a bad film. Despite the niggles, the plot is unusual and deals with some interesting ideas. Your scent is cited as being your very soul, and poor old Jean-Baptiste discovers he doesn’t have a scent of his own. When he concocts the ultimate scent, the resulting reaction and his slow realisation of the importance of human contact and love makes for an interesting little fable. It’s like a Just So story. But with murder and nudity.
For the plot and the strength of lead actor Ben Whishaw, Perfume reaches the recommendable CF0, but it fails to gain any further points due to missing out on an abundance of creative opportunities and for having silly accents. First flick of 2007 – CF0. Let’s see if we can improve on that.