Movies · Vampires

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, a film by Tom Tykwer, 2006

I am not particularly crazy about stories of murderers, but this one compelled me to watch it mainly because its director made the incomparable Run, Lola, Run and I also wondered what perfume has to do with murder.

From the first scene I was captivated. The film opens in a filthy Parisian fishmarket where Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born under a table covered with fish guts. His mother tries to throw him out with the trash but is caught and killed for attempting to abandon her child. Grenouille is remanded to an orphanage where he, even as a baby, begins to discover his truly exceptional sense of smell. The story winds its way through Grenouille’s difficult life that eventually leads him to become a perfumer, the apprentice of one of Paris’ most accomplished of olfactory artists. However, while he has this incredible talent, there is something disconcerting about this character. Something eerily off, something frightening. In an attempt to consume the most remarkable of smells he had yet encountered in his life, the smell of a beautiful young apricot seller with terrifyingly red hair, he murders the young lady. He becomes obsessed with finding her smell, with recreating her perfect smell. Thus begins the portrait of Grenouille, the murderer who captures the essence of women’s unique scent in order to create the most divine of perfume’s in the history of smell.

The story is so surprising and so supremely disturbing I couldn’t take my eyes from the screen and part of me wanted to see what would happen when he collected enough essences of women’s smells (after murdering them of course) to create that perfect and magical perfume. It was indeed repulsive and fascinating, like the desire to meet a vampire. You are curious yet terrified, you can’t stop yourself even though it goes against all decency and goodness.

The only criticism I had of the film adaptation was the lack of descriptions of the smells Grenouille was capturing and smelling. I hear tell that Patrick Suskind’s descriptions of scents in the novel are phenomenally powerful, and I felt the movie could have used more of those descriptions through the voice of the narrator.

Aside from that single criticism, this was an incredibly fascinating movie with a truly unique storyline of a French slasher period piece, rife with chases and magical realism combined with bizarre moments of pure comedy and family drama. A masterful work of art from the visual artist Tom Tykwer, and a film that has since been added to my own personal collection. Of favorites, that is.