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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (8/10)

by Tony Medley

When I arrived at Paramount for the screening I was told it was two hours 37 minutes long. I knew it was about a guy who boils women to make perfume, so when I heard the length, I was ready to bolt. The start of the film wasn’t conducive to staying, as it pretty graphically shows the birth of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), even to showing his mother cutting the umbilical cord.

However, I stuck it out for awhile and after that little while, I couldn’t leave. This is really a brilliantly produced movie, and most of the credit should go Tom Tykwer, who directed, co-authored the screenplay (with Andrew Birkin and Bernd Eichinger, who also produced, whose credits include the screenplay for 2004’s exceptional “Downfall” aka “Der Untergang”) and composed the music.

The backstory of the production of the movie is almost as interesting as the movie. This is based on a novel by Patrick Süskind, which was an international bestseller 20 years ago, selling over 15 million copies in 45 languages. But Süskind is a modern-day J.D. Salinger, so reclusive is he, and he refused to sell the film rights to anybody. Eichinger was after him since 1985, and, finally, 15 years later, Süskind relented, and gave up the film rights.

Whishaw makes Grenouille, truly a monster, but a good-looking one, come alive in a believable manner. It’s not just a thriller about a mad killer, but there is a personal aspect, too. Grenouille, who has such a sensitive nose that he can identify the entire makeup of any perfume with one sniff, feels he needs the beautiful Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood) to complete his master perfume. Laura’s father, Richis (Alan Rickman), goes to heroic lengths to protect the innocent Laura. We really don’t want anything to happen to her, either, she is so beautiful and sweet. All of the acting is superb, but what Whishaw accomplishes is what makes this movie work despite such a distasteful subject. Whishaw is a graduate from Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. His portrayal of Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richard in “Stoned” (2005) was one of the few saving graces of that film.

Dustin Hoffman plays Giuseppe Baldini, a master perfumer who has seen better days until fate delivers Grenouille into his hands. This is one of Dustin’s better roles in recent years.

The recreation of early 19th Century Paris is remarkable. A crew of 350 spent a month in Barcelona, where most of the locations were filmed, recreating the streets and alleyways of Paris, the city of Grasse, and the fish market in the opening sequence.

Purists might get picky and point out differences between the novel and the movie, but this movie is good enough to stand on its own. The subject matter might drive some people away; the length might keep others from seeing it. But if I can sit through a 2:37 movie about a guy who kills women and boils their bodies to make perfume and be entertained, so can you.

December 27, 2006