International Writers Magazine:
A Story Of A Murderer
Director: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman, Ben Wishaw
The opening sequence
of Perfume: A Story Of A Murderer stinks. I mean, it almost literally
smells. Which is probably the affect director Tom Tykwer was after.
The Bafta award winning director of the extraordinary Run Lola Run,
and recent Paris Je taime certainly had his work cut out.
The book of the same name by Patrick Susskind was claimed to be
the unfilmable book by Stanley Kubrick, and any fan
of the novel will certainly see why.
Its about smells. Well, a boy who likes smells. Lets rephrase
that, its about a haunting young man without his own scent who kills
to possess the odours belonging to others. In essence, Perfume is about
Jean Baptiste Grenouille slops into being in the opening scene. His mother
runs a fish stall in a busy market in 18th century France. She gives birth
to him under a table, pushing her supposed stillborn aside with the fish
heads. She has a dirty face and greasy hair, and the market is brought
alive with a multitude of dirty colours and rich sounds. Feet squelch,
paper rustles, fish slop, women breath and the viewer is left in no doubt
of the reason why the tiny baby begins to sniff with his little nose.
Lacking in affection, the young Jean-Baptiste retreats into the fleeting
realm of scent, and develops an unhealthy obsession in the purest smell
of all.....that of a beautiful young girl. The film follows his obsession
through to the gruesome end, constantly reminding us that we should be
smelling, as well as seeing. There is so much sniffing in this film, Im
surprised no one gets a nose bleed.
Readers of the book will know more about Jean-Baptistes' world of smell
than the viewer ever could. His first love, simply known as the Plum
Girl is describes as smelling of lilies and seawater.
No one tells the film fans this; instead she is painted in a rich warm
light, her red hair curling on marble white shoulders. We know she smells
good from the way Jean-Baptiste is lured from a perfume shop to follow
her, and that when she cuts into bright yellow plums the juice runs over
her fingers. The other girls on Grenouilles hit list are pretty;
they wear nice dresses and have clean hair. Even the prostitute scrubs
up nicely. Historically, there is little chance they smelt as nice as
they looked. It was only till the end of the 19th century when hygiene
became a priority and germs were discovered .Louis XVI was notoriously
fond of bath dodging; it is likely that his people followed his example.
If I were Jean-Baptiste, I wouldnt be sniffing pretty girls
armpits with quite as much zeal.
The film however, is beautifully shot .Tykwer almost makes it a study
into the weird phenomenon of synaesthesia. He certainly sells smells better
than any fashionable perfume advert. Big names Alan Rickman and Dustin
Hoffman bring some stardust to the screen. Rickman plays his part well
enough, but his character as the paranoid dad is so predictable, you almost
dont care when Grenouille has his weird way with his daughter. Hoffman
is brilliant as Grenouilles boss, suitably baffled when his young protégée
tries to make Eau Du Chat, and charmingly oblivious to anything
but his own career. Nonetheless it is Ben Wishaw who steals the show.
A suitably unnerving lead man,his Jean-Baptise carries out his macabre
work with the intensity and devotion of a skilled artist.
Far fetched as it is, and bordering on historical and fantastical, Tykwer
has somehow managed to make it work as a film. Obviously, die hard fans
of the book will find fault in the screen version; some scenes have been
cut out for time restrictions. But the film stands as proof that Kubrick
may have been wrong, and for once, it is a compliment to the film making
to say it stinks.
© Aby Davis
Aby studies Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth
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