Born and abandoned in a decrepit 18th century Parisian fishery, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Wishsaw, "Stoned") was given a horrible start on this Earth, but blessed with an extraordinary sense of smell. Sold into a life of hardship, Jean-Baptiste finds tranquility in the aroma of a lovely street vendor, but when their meeting results in her death, Jean-Baptiste is driven to madness trying to reclaim her scent. Finding his way to the doorstep of a master perfumer (Dustin Hoffman), Jean-Baptiste begins a hunt to learn the art of creating perfume, taking him to murderous heights to produce a master scent that will make his name legendary and settle his obsessed mind.
"Perfume" is material that even Stanley Kubrick couldn't crack, making for an even deeper appreciation for what director Tom Tykwer has achieved. Adapted from Patrick Suskind's 1985 novel, "Perfume" is elaborate material that demands a filmmaker patient enough to let the mysteries of the story do all the talking. Jean-Baptiste's rise from abused pauper to a serial killer cannot be achieved through flash and horror. This is a story of a unique fixation, and Tykwer respects the substantial challenge Suskind's work poses to him.
Tykwer is an incredible visualist ("The Princess and the Warrior," "Heaven," "Run Lola Run"), and "Perfume" reaches such operatic, hand-painted heights of life and death, sections of the film look as though they were pulled from the walls of an art gallery. Tykwer revels in the beauty of both ugly and perfection, contrasting Jean-Baptiste's slithery, grimy ways with the clean aristocratic panic of the community he's terrorizing with his purposed killings.
"Perfume" is ridiculous with production design and visual effect details, but it has to be. Jean-Baptiste's world is nothing but minutiae; Tykwer methodically enraptures the viewer with an incisive imagining of Jean Baptiste's range of nostril sense, and how his gift hounds him to a point of consuming feverish panic, and ultimately the mass-murder of innocents. All this to mix his special brand of perfume, made from the essence of dead females. It's a role of arrogance and desperation nicely played by Wishsaw, but its Tykwer's directorial stamina that brings the character's dementia and thirst for perfection to the surface.
The climax of "Perfume" is one of those go-for-broke cinematic moments that could either kill a motion picture or vault it into greatness. When Jean-Baptiste's slaughter cocktail is finally complete, he receives an opening to test the perfume on the incensed audience gathered to watch his execution. The result of his perfume's debut is a moment of lunacy, lust, and surreal expression that Tykwer sells beautifully; offering a glimpse into the time-stopping, bodice-ripping intoxication that's unleashed with a mere sniff of the murderer's magnum opus of scent.
"Perfume" is a whispered, unhurried depiction of madness and uncontainable desire. Much like a perfume, it takes time to breathe in the many flavors of drama and suspense the film contains, and only in the end, when the memory of the film starts to melt away, does a full appreciation of Tykwer's studious and remarkable direction come to pass.
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