The Story of a Murderer
by Patrick Suskind
Director Tom Tywker gives us a whole new take on the concept, "The Scent of a Woman." As intoxicating as it can be anywhere in the world to men, its effects on a man with a bionic capacity to smell like Einstein can theorize turns him (not Einstein) into a serial killer. All he wants to do, really, is to bottle it.
As with any supernatural capability, the need for him to understand it, harness it, and use it for some gain or advantage, is a matter of opportunity and evolution. In director Tom Tykwer's and screenwriter Andrew Birkin's collaborative big-budget scenario, adapted freely from Patrick Suskind's 1985 novel, a heightened sense of smell would be of small advantage on the stinky streets of Paris in the mid 18th century.
From the moment of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille's birth under a widow's stall at Les Halles market, his olfactory treat has consisted of fish guts, human waste, decay and a goodly dose of putrefaction. Mmmmm. When momma births him and leaves his sorry ass to die under her fish counter like she's done to all her offspring before him, he's discovered, she's marched to the gallows, and he's taken in to an orphanage. Finally grown up healthy and strong, (Ben Whishaw) he's sold to the cruel owner of a tanning factory.
Grenouille's good and steady work buys him a longer period of survival than most in this slavish line of work and, after a time, trust enough to be taken into the city for a delivery. While his employer is disracted, he ambles away to take in the sights and there discovers just how his unique ability is to be used. He stops in front of a perfumery, noting the delight society women take in the bottled scents brought out by the proprieter.
Later, on a delivery to Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), a perfumer whose business is slowly dying for lack of a hot new scent, Grenouille demonstrates his olfactory powers and creates a new scent out of Baldini's stock that revives the shop and secures his place as the recognized perfume-meister of his generation. But it's hardly enough. Somewhere during Baldini's training in the principles of perfume creation, the idea is born in Grenouille's mind to create the world's greatest scent. But of what components will it be comprised?
One night, he discovers a sensually gorgeous red-headed girl selling plums on the streets of Paris (incredible beauty Karoline Herfurth) and drinks in her natural fragrance as one might a celestial ambrosia. Alarmed by his proximity, she runs off, but his power is so great he can track her scent as though his nose were a GPS locator. This guy puts bloodhounds to shame.
In this young plum-seller he discovers the sheer magnificence exuding from the pores of beautiful virgins. As he devises a way to capture it in a bottle, with a process that requires their death, he leaves a trail of dead maidens in alleys and street corners all over the city. Fear grips the citizens and their leaders. Alarms go out. Grenouille, mad, lusts for his living smells... with no interest in sexual pleasure. He's a killer, not a rapist.
The capper for him is the beauteous blond Laura Richis (16-year old Rachel Hurd-Wood, "An American Haunting") whose rich, protective father Antoine (Alan Rickman) will do anything and spend any amount to protect his daughter from the serial non-ravager. But, as stretches of credulity permeate the tale, there is no defense for those the perfumer-extraordinaire truly needs for his formula.
A strange tale centered on a character immersed in disgust makes this a fascinating but uncomfortable work of imagination. The realism in the cinematography which captures so much dread in tonally glorious images of texture and dimensionality is given the lie in the exaggeration of the performances, from Whishaw's, to Hoffman's to Rickman's, more or less in that order.
On the other hand, the young girls are innocent of overblown posturing in their characterizations, refreshing and truthful. They, I suspect, are Twyker's favored poison. He who brought Franka Potente to international prominence ("Run Lola Run") appears to be a sucker for a story that enables him to feature gorgeous actresses. And we, his audience, are the beneficiaries of his unerring eye, most especially in the forms of Hurd-Wood and Herfurth. We may hate his protagonist but we love the objects of his twisted desire.
~~ Jules Brenner
composed by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimer & Reinhold Heil -
conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic