If you aren’t familiar with the eclectic and amazingly distinctive body of work from filmmaker Tom Tykwer, you should get to know it fast. His films, which include Run Lola Run, Winter Sleepers, Heaven, The International, The Princess and the Warrior, Three, Soul Boy, and segments of Cloud Atlas, are almost impossible to easily classify or describe, often mixing various genres and stylistic ingredients which add up to extremely original pieces of work. One of his best and certainly most underrated efforts is Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, a project previously attempted by no less than Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, and Martin Scorsese, a story so wild and crazy and totally off the reservation that it required overseas financing to ever see the light of day (this film was produced with $60 million in German coin). Perfume, much like the rest of Tykwer’s body of work, is a heady mixture of existentialism, surrealism, fantasy, violence, and sexuality. This is a film that made over $150 million outside of the United States, yet only around $4 million here. Just watch it and you’ll likely see why. It’s something of a bizarre masterwork, and while maybe not perfect, it’s so bold and audacious that I guarantee you’ll be fascinated, if not repelled. In a good way. I think. Yeah, you’ll probably be repulsed at times, but always engrossed. Because you’re never too sure where all of this is going, there’s something very exciting about watching this creepy yet undeniably stylish movie unfold.
The film is based on the 1985 novel by Patrick Suskind, and the action is set in 18th century France, during the time of the plague and general misfortune, not to mention amazing hygiene! The pensive yet seductive Ben Whishaw is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, something of an olfactory specialist, a man driven to homicide and obsessive behavior in an effort to find the perfect scent. So what does he do? He starts killing the country’s virgins, becoming more and more possessed by the idea that a pure sexual being emits the greatest bodily odors, which can then be processed into intoxicating perfumes and fragrances. If what I’m describing sounds insane, well, it all sort of is just that – insane with ideas, textures, smells, tastes, costumes, grungy locations, and the endless possibilities that come with a truly unpredictable narrative. And then just wait for the amazingly funny and erotic finale, where an about to be hung for his crimes Grenouille may be able to escape certain doom by creating a mad orgiastic frenzy amongst a crowd of spectators – it’s something you just have to see to truly believe. I viewed this film in the theater on opening weekend in Los Angeles, and since its initial release have watched it numerous times on Blu-ray and DVD (a region free Blu from Germany provides a gorgeous transfer). It’s a film that mostly escaped the movie going landscape but it’s a work that deserves to find a passionate audience.