Monday, January 8, 2007

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer


January 6, 2007 - 35mm/Angelika Film Center

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer opens with a welcome bit of cruelty. A young mother working behind a fish stand in an extraordinarily cruddy part of 18th century Paris drops under her table and pops out a little baby, grabs a knife, cuts the cord and pops back up and continues selling a customer. What follows is a brief quick-cut montage of animal butchery and fish gutting, illustrating our newly born protagonists non-discriminatory super-powerful sense of smell. Oh, glorious day! This gooey bowel-filled blitzkrieg is a celebration of filth and a wonderful antidote to the unbeautiful idiocy of this particular scene in Amelie. Could it be, that German director Tom Tykwer has set out to undermine the silliness that plagues the “French” sensibility and humor?

No. Mr. Tykwer chooses not only to embrace this particularly brand of buffoonery, but also to perpetuate the typical and stupid idea of virginal beauty being the most powerful thing in the world. Dopey. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is based on the German international bestselling book, Das Parfum. What better way for an author to test their craft than to tackle such an abstract wordless wonder as scent? Pages could be devoted to luscious description; an entire novel dedicated to putting a smell in the reader’s nose. Therefore, it would be safe to assume a movie would try to do the same, with image and sound. Yet, this movie attempts to amplify young Jean-Baptiste Grenouille’s abilities with shot after shot of his sniffing nose and, get this, shots of what he smells!

As mentioned, the scent that most captures this young man’s fancy is the smell of a young virgin, and what smells better than a young virgin? Thirteen young virgins mashed into a super-virgin perfume! Thus begins one of the highlights of the movie, a murder montage consisting of Grenouille literally pulling virgins off the street. He hides in the shadows, around corners and out of frame, only to yoink the virgins into the shadows, around corners and out of frame. A great deal of time is spent with one particularly boring red-headed virgin, yielding zero degrees of tension as the young man hunts her down. There in lies the most glaring flaw with Perfume, the lack of character. There is not one complicated, human or interesting character in the movie. Grenouille spends a time as an apprentice to perfumer Giuseppe Baldini, played by Dustin Hoffman. In place of a performance, Mr. Hoffman phones in a completely ludicrous accent. I do not blame him, for how can one utter such lines and look at the stilted doe-eyed expressions of Ben Whishaw and not start speaking in that accent?

None of this does take away from the insanity of the opening scenes of this movie, but it does make the movie an overlong exercise in silliness. Uncalled for silliness haunts French cinema, and Mr. Tykwer, though a German directing a movie in English, made this movie set in France far too cutesy pie for its bleak visuals and murderous subject matter. But hey, let’s crack open a case of virgins and have ourselves a coup.

1 comment:

Shawn said...

I went into this movie thinking it was another movie altogether.

I was impressed that they made me feel sorry for such a vile character. But it was still quite disgusting.