Perfume: The Story of a Murder

Based on the 1985 best selling novel by Patrick Suskind, “Perfume” is a story of seduction, murder and obsession set in eighteenth century France. A collaboration between producer Bernd Eichinger (“Downfall,” “The Neverending Story”) and cult director Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run,” “Heaven”), this eagerly awaited screen version leaves much to be desired. Fans of the book should not complain, since the movie does justice to the ambitious and strange novel, which for years was considered “unfilmabale.”

However, viewers who have not read the book might find it harder to get emotionally involved in an ironically detached tale that imposes a contemporary modernist perspective on the historical case.

The protagonist Jean-Bpatiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) has used his unique talent for discerning the scents and the smells that swirl around him in order to create the world's finest perfumes.

His unique talent, however, masks a huge psychological burden. An orphan from birth, Grenouille has always felt alone in the world and different from any other person.

Determined to communicate or connect on any level with other humans, Grenouille tries to capture the irresistible but elusive aroma of young womanhood, to which goal he travels far, delving deeper into the intricate science of perfume-making.

As Grenouille becomes increasinglyand recklesslypassionate about his art, his obsession to create the world's most powerful fragrance takes a deadly turn.

Released in Germany in early fall, “Perfume” quickly became a localand Europeanblockbuster. DreamWorks, which will release the Constantin production Dec 27, may have problems putting this picture with American audiences, and not only due to the crowded holiday season.

Reportedly, Munich-based writer Suskind refused to sell the screen rights for many years, finally yielding to Eichinger's offer in 2001. British writer-director Andrew Birkin worked with Eichinger and Tykler on script, which manifests similar problems to his previous efforts: the diffuse and pretentious “The Name to the Rose,” and the trashy sequel, “Omen III: The Final Conflict.” Like those pictures, “Perfume” is at once pretentious in its intellectual-metaphysical aspects and uninvolving, due to historical context and strange central character that becomes a serial killer as a movie hero.

Also, how do you make audiences “smell” the perfumes, and distinguish between their different odorsthis is after all a movie about the sensory world of scent–which are crucial elements of the film's plot and the mood.

The saga begins in 1766, showing Grenouille hearing his death sentence in public, then goes back to two decades earlier. We witness Grenouille's birth in a fish market, his childhood in an orphanage run by the greedy Mme. Gaillard (Sian Thomas), his apprenticeship under Grimal (Sam Douglas).

Tykler also uses an offscreen narrator (John Hurt in the English version; Otto Sander in the German), who depicts Grenouille's obsession with “the fleeting world of scent.” His olfactory sense becomes so strong that it dominants all other human qualities, including compassion and interpersonal communication.

“Perfume” is equal parts a serial killer saga and a bizarre love story. Wandering in Paris,
Grenouille smells the scent of a woman selling plums (Karoline Herfurth). After strangling her, he tries to preserve her scent in his memory by sniffing her naked corpse.

Grenouille's develops his obsession with the encouragement of charlatan entrepreneurial parfumier Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman, miscast), who becomes his mentor.
When Grenouille discovers that human scent can't be bottled, he goes to Provence's town of Grasse, which specializes in enfleurage, extracting the essence of flowers. Joining a firm run by Mme. Arnulfi (Corinna Harfouch), and becoming obsessed by the virginal scent of local beauty Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood), daughter of widowed merchant Antoine Richis (Alan Rickman, excellent as a protective father), he turns to mass murder to produce the ultimate “scent of a woman.”

Overstaying its welcome by at least half an hour (running time is 146 minutes), “Perfume” film is deliberately paced (too slow-moving by American stabdards), but it boasts authentic and alluring visuals, based on Uli Hanisch's inventive production design and Pierre-Yves Gayraud's realistic costumes.

Helmer Tykler deserves credit for taking a challenging, ambitious book and turning it into a visual spectacle, with crowd scenes that feature thousands of extras, rather than special effects. With half a dozen movies under his belt, each looking and sounding differently,
Tykler is still a talent to watch.