2007-01-19 / Columnists


'Perfume: The Story of A Murderer' - Scents For A Psycho
Review By Robert Snyder

In 1981, off-beat film maker John Waters tried to tap uncharted cinematic waters, or aromas, by introducing "odorama" in his movie, "Polyester." The offensive romantic comedy pairing Tab Hunter and transvestite Divine featured scratch-and-sniff strips for audience members to share the smells in the screen story.

Writer-Director Tom Tykwer could use "odorama" in his new scent-obsessed feature, "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer." With lush probing camera work from Director of Photography Frank Griebe, Tykwer tells the bizarre story of an 18th century psychopath, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (a young Keith Richards look-alike, Ben Whishaw), who stalks (or sniffs) the streets of Paris and Grasse, France, in search of 12 virgins and one prostitute with odors that, when combined, will create an aroma which is literally Heaven-sent (or scent).

The trouble is... the girls must die.

So, we have Jack, the Perfumer.

Based on the international best seller by Patrick Süskind, "Perfume" is an epic historical drama promoting exquisite production design (Uli Hanisch) and a wonderful supporting performance by Dustin Hoffman. As over-the-hill perfumer Giuseppe Baldini, Hoffman brings desperately-needed humor to a film that ultimately suffocates in its sordid seriousness. A John Waters movie this is not.

Baldini teaches Jean-Bapiste the techniques of preserving elusive odors for all-important perfumes in an age when sanitation was non-existent and terrible stenches were the norm. However, for the perfume apprentice, who has no odor of his own, smell is everything because he possesses the nose of a super bloodhound. In fact, he can detect specific scents from miles away, a talent he uses it to track down the beautiful unsoiled daughter, Laura (Richel Hurd-Wood), of nobleman Antoine Richis (Alan Richman). She rides far and wide to escape him. But the nose knows. Jean-Bapiste needs her essence to complete his apocalyptic perfume.

Short of a scratch-and-sniff smell track, Tywer does anything and everything to bring smells to the theatergoers. We swoop through the skies to follow Laura's odor, wallow in rotting fish and animal skins, linger over the voluptuous flesh of luckless maidens, whom the psycho perfumer anoints with scent-saving animal fat. The most effective odorama-esque moment is when Baldini takes a whiff of a Jean-Baptiste concoction causing a gorgeous garden to symbolically bloom around his euphoric face.

Unfortunately, Whishaw has as much charisma as his character has scent. That is, none. The finale requires the murderer to attain an almost messianic aura. Angel or devil, he's uninteresting. But his schnozz is no slouch. Twitching and sniffing, it acts up a storm.

Those with a taste for the unusual may find "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" worth sniffing out.

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