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16 December 2012 @ 08:03 pm
Film Review: Perfume  
A tale of genius, love, and obsession starring Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, and Dustin Hoffman. The director is also Tom Tykwer who was one of the 3 directors responsible for Cloud Atlas.


I recently rewatched this movie as I seem intent on not finishing my final papers. I originally saw this around the time it first came out and was my first exposure to Ben Whishaw. It probably speaks to his talents as an actor that I walked away from the film, feeling unsettled and somewhat repulsed by him which was probably the point of his character.

Based on the bestselling novel by Patrick Susskind, Perfume is the story of Jean-Baptise Grenouille (Whishaw). Set in 18th Century France, you follow Grenouille from the moment he enters this world when his mother gives birth to him under the fish stall where she works...and promptly leaves him down in the dirt to die. It is this kind of passive rejection that follows Grenouille who grows up a strangely detached young man who tends to unsettle those around him. What saves Grenouille from a life of unremarkable toil is his remarkable sense of smell. With this power, he apprentices himself to Baldini (Hoffman), a once famous perfumer in Paris and quickly begins to cultivate his own recipes for some of the most exquisite perfumes ever made.

What's kind of brilliant about the trailer for this film is that if you only watch the first 30 seconds, you can easily believe this movie is a kind of fairytale-like fable about an extraordinary man who uses his powers to bring happiness to those around him and perhaps eventually find his place in society. But keep watching and it becomes apparent that this story will more than make good on the subtitle for the novel which is in fact, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Very early on in the movie, Grenouille has a specific encounter which locks in his lifelong obsession with preserving a specific scent. And several people are killed in his quest to achieve his masterpiece.

In watching the film again, I was reminded that in many ways this film was a failure with regard to pacing. However, it achieved a nice balance, both with the script and with the acting that Grenouille's motivations are not completely sociopathic. In fact, he has a great desire to find his place in the world and struggles to connect with those around him, growing increasingly despondent as he realizes the qualities he lacks that will allow him to make a connection with a single other human being out there. In my post-Supernatural viewing brain, I kept finding myself getting reminded of Castiel in his first season on that show and Grenouille. Make no mistake, their characters are completely different but there's a kind of naive ignorance in Grenouille about certain things that makes him almost seem inhuman, as it is with Castiel. And there's also the struggle of each character re-evaluating what they've always considered to be certain truths that are now splintering into doubts in their mind.

After my second viewing, I still found Grenouille disturbing to watch. However, I did feel a shred a sympathy for him toward the end, in particular when I was reminded of the very human desire that underlay his obsessive quest for creating that specific perfume. While not a movie I can recommend in terms of narrative pacing and certain aesthetics, it's still an interesting take on what defines us being human and our concept of what it means to have a soul.
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Astoundingly fond of avocados and rainy weather.: SPN_Rainguardian_chaos on December 19th, 2012 05:56 am (UTC)
Oh, dang, this sounds ridiculously interesting. O_O I like the misdirection you speak of, in which the movie, at face value (at least in the trailer) starts out looking like a quest to bring happiness to those around him, but then...the twist kicks in...at what cost must this happiness be bought?

Also, scent being strongly tied to memory makes this all the more intriguing. I want badly to know what this obsessed-over scent was.

Plus you mentioned Castiel, no matter in what context, so my attention is, of course, inexorably drawn at this point. *G*
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on December 19th, 2012 06:05 am (UTC)
Also, scent being strongly tied to memory makes this all the more intriguing.

This doesn't get touched on that much other than maybe at the very end. But it's not a topic the writer or filmmaker explored which I did think was a little odd since smell is so tied to memory.

I want badly to know what this obsessed-over scent was.

It's actually really creepy. And would have remained completely creepy (or at least full on creepy) except we get one scene at the end which gives the whole thing more layers. But still a bit creepy.

Plus you mentioned Castiel, no matter in what context, so my attention is, of course, inexorably drawn at this point. *G*

Both Misha Collins and Ben Whishaw have perfected the art of staring in that unblinking, curious/confused way.

There's a funny scene with Baldini where Baldini tells a long fable about how the Egyptians made perfume by using 12 ingredients. But there's a mythical 13th ingredient that's supposed to unlock the greatest scent in the world but it was never discovered. Grenouille's response to that is a deadpan: "Why not?"

Baldini: Why not? Because it's a legend, idiot.
Grenouille: ...What's a legend?
Baldini: Nevermind.

The above scene just screamed early conversations I feel like Dean and Castiel must have had about certain words and slang.

Edited at 2012-12-19 06:08 am (UTC)
Astoundingly fond of avocados and rainy weather.: SPN_Gamechangerguardian_chaos on December 19th, 2012 06:37 am (UTC)
Oh! What a lost opportunity! Sad. I think it'd be interesting to explore a character obsessed with recreating a certain smell in order to trigger a specific memory that he's having trouble accessing without the help. There'd be a certain desperation mixed in with the loss,but it'd be difficult for any other character to understand.

It's actually really creepy. And would have remained completely creepy (or at least full on creepy) except we get one scene at the end which gives the whole thing more layers. But still a bit creepy.

I am madly curious now. What's the rating for this film? How much gore are we talking here?

Both Misha Collins and Ben Whishaw have perfected the art of staring in that unblinking, curious/confused way.

Hee! Yeah, they so have, and I love 'em for it. :)

And ha! I think I may have heard something about that mystical 13th ingredient somewhere, or at least it sounds familiar. Indeed, why not figure it out? For a genius of the nose, surely this is not an impossible task.

I often seem to fall for character pairs that involve a clever guy who enjoys pop culture references and a confused other half who either just doesn't get it or raises his eyebrows derisively a lot. Harry & Bob, Data & Geordie, Ro & Zeta, Dean & Castiel, Kirk & Spock...it is a good character mix!
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on December 19th, 2012 10:53 am (UTC)
The movie is rated R but I think the reason for it is nudity. It's a surprisingly bloodless film as you don't see the killings in the immediate sense. Just the aftermath but even then it's not gory. More just...creepy imagery.