2006 - Germany - 147 minutes
Writer - Andrew Birkin from the novel by Patrick Süskind
Director - Tom Tykwer
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars
When I think of the plot synopsis of this film, it is a wonder that I even rented it. It is the story of a boy born into abject poverty in 18th Century Paris, raised in a brutal orphanage, then sold to a even more brutal tanner to work in a place where the healthiest workers only survive for about five years. The special thing about this boy is that he has an incredible sense of smell that guides him through all of his activities.
One day while delivering goods he senses the aroma of a beautiful woman and is overcome by its effect. He follows the woman and accidentally murders her. Afterwards, he inhales every scent of her body and decides he must capture her astounding aura in some permanent way.
Through a stroke of luck, he becomes an apprentice for a famous Paris perfumer where he learns of the twelve essential elements of a perfect scent. He also learns of a legend that there is an elusive thirteenth element that will raise the scent to the ultimate.
He travels to a rural area in France famous for the creation of scents and proceeds to murder beautiful women in order to distill the thirteen elements needed for his supreme scent.
Considering the plotline, this is surely a story that most people would shun - except, perhaps, horny little adolescent boys with minds filled with violence and the desire to see the bodies of beautiful women. I can assure you, however, that this is a mesmerizing film that captures you from the very beginning and holds you entranced for two and a half hours.
Director Tom Tykwer has combined all the elements necessary to raise this film far above the level of a standard horror flick to that of a more than excellent motion picture. I hadn't realized it, but I have already seen a number of Tykwer's films and have enjoyed them all. They are all different but have a special - almost indefinable - touch that make them so, so watchable. Among Tykwer's other films are Winter Sleepers, The Princess and the Warrior, Heaven, and Run, Lola, Run. I recommend them all.
In the special feature on the DVD, Tykwer talks of his search for an actor to play the main character - not an easy job. His choice of Ben Whishaw is perfection - he certainly has those mysterious thirteen elements. Whishaw gives us an amoral man committing unspeakable acts with whom we sympathize throughout the film. He convincingly shows us the two extremes of the human psyche - angelic innocence and conscienceless evil.
Tykwer states that he had no other thoughts for actors to play the other major male characters other than Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman, and they, indeed, are perfect in their parts. At times, the film is somewhat of a dark comedy and Hoffman surely adds to that effect in his characterization of the famous Paris perfumer. Rickman is the intelligent father of the ultimate beauty - the thirteenth element - doing everything he can to protect his daughter from the monster in their midst.
The extraordinarily beautiful Rachel Hurd-Wood plays the daughter and is, without a doubt, that elusive thirteenth element.
Tom Tykwer is surely a Renaissance man in that he not only directed the film but helped to write it and composed the haunting musical score. If you love well-constructed films offering excellence in every detail, you'll love Perfume.
July 30, 2007