Perfume 2006 movie

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

If cinema is the sum total of all the arts aiming to stimulate all our senses, indeed smell and perfume are more problematic to portray, yet this strange 2006 thriller movie succeeds in the task decidedly well.

With a narrator’s voice that we will never know exactly whose it is, this tale of yesteryear tells us about the life of the bizarre Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a supreme master of the sense of smell since childhood, as well as doing more than well in the art of serial murder.

This killer’s first victim is none other than his mother, who gives birth to him on the dirty street in the market where she works and immediately tries to dispose of him.

But the infant alerts the crowd with his wails, and so the woman is brutally lynched, while Jean-Baptiste ends up in reform school, where immediately the other children shun him because of his morbid interest in all forms of smell.

Once he grows up, there does not seem to be a bright future for him; sold as a slave to the filthy and brutal Grimal, a leather tanner who uses him in the hardest jobs and to make deliveries around town.

During one of these deliveries, Jean-Baptiste has the good fortune to meet Giuseppe Baldini, a once-renowned perfumer who is immediately impressed when the boy effortlessly recreates the most successful perfume in vogue.

At that point, the mysterious ways of the perfumery art open up for our protagonist, as Baldini teaches him all his tricks and he reciprocates creating marvelous perfumes and bringing his dying business back to life from nothing.

However, Jean-Baptiste is not satisfied with Baldini’s lessons, wishing to know how he can permanently preserve the smell he is most fascinated by: the delicate, sensual, natural fragrance of the world’s most beautiful girls.

An obsession that takes him beyond the brink of madness and for which, as per the title, he is even willing to kill.

Talent, obsession and murder

Although he is most famous for the unusual women’s action “Run Lola Run,” I feel that this 2006 movie directed by Tom Tykwer is more intriguing and compelling in telling a distinctive plot of scent and suggestion.

The elegant package cleverly juggles obsession and talent, then veering more usual (but still highly entertaining) along the lines of the serial killer genre.

With grace and virtuosity, the camera accompanies the young Jean-Baptiste in mise-en-scene, depicting the dirt and cultural backwardness but also the unquestionable charm of the French period in the mid-1700s.

Although it may seem like overly glossy photography, especially in the attention to clothes and makeup of the beautiful girls, I would say that this aspect is in line with the way the protagonist views these young women, sublimating their ethereal beauty above the ordinary, almost as if they were angels instead of human beings.

Jean-Baptiste is a protagonist of few words but easy-to-read psychology, as simple and effective as his diabolical plan and ultimate goal of creating the perfect perfume.

A guy who has always been alone, invisible, and incapable of emotion or feeling, except only through his extraordinary nose, which is able to smell his victims from miles away.

When he briefly wanders away from the city, in the complete solitude of a stone cave, he seems almost unable to smell himself, as if not having one; this perhaps explains how he can move as silently as a ninja during the murders.

I would say that it is a perfect irony of fate for a character so extraordinary in his talent as a perfumer not to have a smell of his own, which for him is like saying that he does not exist at all since his whole world is made up only of scents.

A cast of excellence and charisma

It is a very unusual choice of Ben Whishaw as the lead, a young star on the rise after the success (albeit in a secondary role) of the bizarre crime pulp Layer Cake by the equally excellent first-time director Matthew Vaughn, who would later achieve worldwide success with Kick-Ass or The Kingsman saga.

Yet, in this case, he forgoes the acerbic charm of his clean-cut face and plays the heart and soul of this bizarre character who varies from the facial inexpressiveness of a psychopath to funny moments where his sense of smell comes through in an almost superhero-like fashion.

A character often wholly silent or expresses himself with few words, mumbling as if unaccustomed to speaking, excluded from the circle of normalcy from birth.

Whishaw is undoubtedly not alone in bearing the brunt of the movie but relies on an excellent supporting cast on which, first and foremost, stands Dustin Hoffman, a kind of mentor and teacher who does not fully understand his pupil, even despising him at times.

Alan Rickman (the unforgettable Hans Gruber from the first Die Hard) is equally good as the noble Richis, who will become the protagonist’s main enemy as he desperately tries to protect his gorgeous daughter Laura (the enchanting Rachel Hurd-Wood) from the murderous lusts of young Jean-Baptiste.

Each girl plays a crucial role in the deadly symphony of the perfect Perfume the murderer aims to create, building up to a stunning finale where the twist completely shatters all expectations of realism, venturing into the realm of fantasy.

Finally, let’s not forget John Hurt, the narrator voice of a stranger who seems to be the only one knowing Jean-Baptiste, as he will spend his entire life and die without leaving any trace of the world of his existence.

I’ve been eager to recommend Perfume for a while now, being a truly unique and underappreciated gem from 2006 that deserves more recognition even today because it succeeds in standing out in the crowded serial killer genre and beyond with its distinct personality.

Perfume 2006 movie
Amazon Prime Video
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