Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review: Perfume: Story of a Murderer (2006)

Director: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Hurd-Wood

I think this movie would benefit from a scratch n' sniff card, if anything. That way, at least, we would be able to share the sheer euphoria emitted from Ben Whishaw as he portrays the main character in this movie.

Yes, Perfume: Story of a Murderer, the only movie to star a...the only movie with...okay, no more witty openings in this, I can't do it. This movie is just dark, dark, dark. Telling the story through the eyes of an omniprescent narrator, Perfume is about a young boy with an extraordinary sense of smell who tries to create the world's ultimate perfume through the use of dead girls. It is a twisted tale, thoroughly fairytale-like, and it manages to enthrall with a creeping pace and dark, artistic imagery throughout.

Ben Whishaw is a brilliant actor, and I have no idea how I've never heard of him before. His portrayal of Grenouille is inhuman, the character seeming more like an uncaged animal than a human being. His journey is one of few words, but every expression, every move he makes speaks volumes. Witness his transformation from a dogged-eyed snooper to a calculated murderer. He is deeply chilling and disturbing to watch. There is very little of anything resembling human in his eyes - you can tell he got real into this role, and I respect him all the more for it.

The story does not seem threatening at first so much as darkly sad and disturbing. In the first five minutes, we are fed images of a baby being born underneath a grimy slum fish stand, its uterus cord severed with a dirty knife. We are then shown a series of images like worms, maggots, dead meat from animals, and other lovely things that are the first things our Grenouille smells as he enters the world. The film also contains an extensive orgy and scenes of cannibalism.

Now that I've gotten your attention, aren't you just enthralled to see this movie? Well, you should be, because it is as dark and mystical a tale as they come. Perfume is a slow-burner of a movie, with a lot of time devoted to the killer's upbringing and backstory, and it's really the only way they could have pulled this off and retained the elegant grace of the anecdotal aspects of the story. The focus isn't on the murders, it's on the sweeping, opaque terror that comes in waves with each new act, each build up. There is, as mentioned, a certain kind of elegance about it all, even in the darkest moments.

I really like the attention to detail of making perfume here. I don't know much about it and for all I know the movie could be stretching things in order to make the plot work, but oh, it does work. Dustin Hoffman as Beldini the perfumist gives the second best performance in the film next to Whishaw. Wonderful actor.

Really, there are no shortages of good scenes - the maze scene, Whishaw's ascent up the stairs of the hotel, and his subsequent standing over the girl's bed, and more - and no shortage of subtle terror to be found. Perfume is a master work. See it, be taken in by it and witness the insane beauty it holds.