Urban Cinefile
"At the studios there are a lot of scams going on, where they will cash cheques for actors that don't exist, where they will charge negative cost of a film, double the real amount ."  -Jackie Collins on Hollywood
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) is born in the stench of the Paris fish market - with a remarkably acute sense of smell - in 1738 and abandoned. After surviving the murderous working conditions of the tannery, young Grenouille propels himself into an apprenticeship at the perfumery of the famed Baldini (Dustin Hoffman). He soon surpasses his master in the art of creating scents, and moves to Grasse, the centre of perfume making. Here, possessed by the idea of preserving human aromas, he secretly murders several young women whose virginal scent captivates him. Avoiding capture, he is about to complete his collection with the beautiful Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood), when her father, Richis (Alan Rickman), whisks her South to the coast; but Grenouille is a desperate man.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Perfume is a remarkable film in many ways, not least in that it brings the bizarre world of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) from the page to the screen. It's an audacious story, starting as the biography of a gifted but deranged man, which morphs into a metaphysical fantasy. Herein lies the film's biggest problem, because not even a filmmaker of Tom Tykwer's outstanding talents can wrangle this work to a satisfactory conclusion.

The first two acts are beautifully produced visually and technically, and even if we can't warm to Jean-Baptiste, we can enjoy the gritty atmos of mid 18th century Paris as we swing from the stinking fish market to the perfumeries. Much is made of this dichotomy, the lad with nothing but a sense of smell so acute that he can detect every ingredient of a perfume and the perfect proportions of the mix - who was born in Europe's smelliest spot. Symbolism is rife, as the disturbed Jean-Baptiste loses reason in his quest for the essence of virgins - the notion of bottling beauty also strikes a contemporary chord, but none of this gels into anything truly meaningful.

While this can haunt the pages of a novel, it's harder work for the film, but Tykwer does quite well. Ben Whishaw is a suitably ethereal actor (reminds me of Lothaire Bluteau's intensely internal performance in Jesus of Montreal) but Dustin Hoffman seems uncertain of how large to play the fading perfume maestro. That's probably because he had read the script and therefore knew where it ended up; in a strange and surreal final act which asks the audience to abandon the biography and take up with inaccessible metaphysics, combined with thriller elements as the killer pursues the virgin, under the terrified eyes of her father. The rot sets in as soon as Jean-Baptiste leaves Paris for Grasse. Filmmaking care is abandoned, and while it all looks lovely, none of it is credible or real. Too many details are overlooked (practicality is still important, even if the themes are ethereal).

Rachel Hurd-Wood is the best thing in the film, closely followed by Alan Rickman as her dad, but neither can save the film from its inherent flaw. The power of perfume (indeed all smell) is well understood by us all, but we are asked to abandon reason for no good reason as the plot spirals into a forced fantasy.

Review by Louise Keller:
An intoxicating fable about a man whose phenomenal sense of smell sets him on an irrevocable course, Perfume is a captivating, if overlong adaptation. Tom Tykwer takes Patrick Süskind's best selling novel about a tortured soul's search for the magical elixir of happiness, and allows us to get under his skin. Murder is his pathway for collecting beauty, and this bizarre and complex story is as engrossing as it is mystifying.

The first striking image is that of a man's face in shadow. As a shaft of light suddenly hits, it is symbolic only the nose is illuminated. In flashback, we are taken to the very beginning of the tale, when baby Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born under a fish stand at the markets and discarded by his mother surrounded by the stench of fish heads, entrails and maggots. Tykwer hooks us into the story by making the young Grenouille a sympathetic character, as he struggles through a beastly childhood first at a dingy orphanage and then sold for a few francs at age 13 to work at a tannery, all the while knowing he is different.

As the adult Grenouille, Ben Whishaw brilliantly conveys a mix of a tragic loner with an obsessive and psychotic streak, his intensity bottled like the complexity of a rare perfume. Believing the scent is the soul of every being, it is paradoxical he has the gift of scent, but no scent of his own. The red haired fruit seller wearing hypnotic perfume is his first victim, and from thereon in, he is obsessed. His relationship with Dustin Hoffman's masterly, but now failing Paris perfumer Baldini, develops when Baldini realises he needs his extraordinary skills, as he watches Grenouille mix essences of bergamot, patchouli, orange blossom, lime and musk to create wondrous notes and chords. Baldini's advice to 'experiment', leads Grenouille to his shocking quest as he collects beauty and bottles it. Alan Rickman is solid as the Grasse merchant Richis and Rachel Hurd-Wood lovely as the girl with the irresistible scent.

Marvellous production design offers sharp contrasts between the grime of 18th Century Paris and the breathtaking beauty of Grasse's lavender fields in bloom. Shot in Germany, Spain and France, Tykwer faced many challenges, including hundreds of extras who spoke in different languages. My main reservation is that in this English-language film, French names and places are awkwardly mispronounced. Even the wildly creative ending sits comfortably within Tykwer's cinematic frame.

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

(Germany/ France/ Spain, 2006)

CAST: Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood,


PRODUCER: Bernd Eichinger

DIRECTOR: Tom Tykwer

SCRIPT: Tom Tykwer, Andrew Birkin, Bernd Eichinger (novel by Patrick Süskind)


EDITOR: Alexander Berner

MUSIC: Reinhold Heil, Anne Fremiot, Michelle Guish, Luci Lenox


RUNNING TIME: 141 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 11, 2007

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020