Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

REMINDER: The Brattle Movie-Watch-a-Thon is in progress. Drop me a line if you would like to sponsor me, go here to make a donation, and check back on a near-daily basis to see how well I'm doing. With these film, I'm at 1 Brattle film seen and 4 elsewhere, which means 6 "points" total (or 3, depending on whether Brattle films count for two or other films count for ½)

Bizarre how scheudles work. My plan on Monday had been to work until about six or so, then take the bus all the way back to Kendall Square and catch something, probably Miss Potter, during the 7:00 to 7:30 window. Instead, I caught a ride home and wound up watching 24 with my brother and his girlfriend all evening. Then, last night, I got stuck in work until seven, which made it easy to get to Kendall Square for Perfume.

I remembered why I don't see too many movie during the week - it leads to movie snacks basically replacing a meal (in last night's case, a brownie and a hot chocolate), and that's just not healthy. I felt like I should be eating some real food, but wasn't really hungry enough until midnight.

I did notice a somewhat tempting offer at Landmark: Five free Blu-ray Disc movies with the purchase of a Samsung player by June 30th. Now, I'm happy with my HD-DVD player, but if, sometime within the next five-odd months, a Samsung BD player drops below $500 and I've got a Best Buy coupon, I may bite.

Perfume: The Storyof a Murder

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 January 2007 at Landmark Kendall Square #8 (First-run) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

I went into Perfume expecting strange but very little else in particular. I just knew that it was Tom Tykwer's latest film and thus likely to be interesting. My first surprise came when the actors were speaking English rather than the filmmakers' native German or the French of the film's setting, but new and interesting surprises would come at a regular clip.

The film starts with Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) about to be executed in an especially brutal way. We flash back to his birth in the most squalid, smelly section of Paris in 1738 - a fish market, where his mother squeezes him out and leaves him on the floor while serving a customer, thinking him to be a stillbirth like her previous four pregnancies. His cries alert the people, and he is soon shipped to Madame Gaillard's orphanage, where he discovers that he has a superhuman sense of smell, one which is wasted at the tannery to which Mme. Gaillard sells him. When making deliveries to the city, though, he discovers wonderful smells - notably that of a pretty girl selling plums (Karoline Herfurth). Her smell is so intoxicating that he wishes to find a way to preserve it, leading to an apprenticeship under once-celebrated parfumier Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), and then to Grasse, the perfume capital of Europe. As he nears Grasse, he is captivated by the scent of debutante Laura Richis (Rachel Hurd-Wood), but when his experiments in preserving a woman's distinctive scent coincide with a series of womens' bodies being found, Laura's father Antoine (Alan Rickman) fears for her safety and becomes obsessed with catching the killer.

That's a rather torturous summary of a somewhat meandering film, and in some ways the roundabout path it takes can be just as torturous. There is a lot of narration at times, as if John Hurt is just reading long sections of the original novel, and when the focus suddenly shifts from Jean-Baptiste's childhood to Baldini's backstory, it's like he's picked up another book. There are other bits detailing the bad ends that Jean-Baptiste's parent figures encounter that, while darkly amusing, maybe aren't the greatest idea. Doing so presents Jean-Baptiste as merely a sort of nexus of bad fortune, as he has no direct hand in those events, rather than the source of it. Tykwer also expects the audience to make progressively larger leaps, and while Jean-Baptiste's unusual olfactory sense is a necessary one for the premise, and the one at the climax is foreshadowed, but the last may be a little too fairy-tale.

Full review at HBS.

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