Set in 18th century France, Perfume is – to say they least- a unique film. Directed by Tom Twyker, this movie is based on german author Patrick Suskind’s ‘DasParfums’. It’s unusual story and the captivating protagonist with his entertaining shades of grey draw you in like a strong bottle of its namesake.

Jean Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) is an extraordinary child. He has an olfactory sense that can be rivalled by none, yet strangely enough, no odour of his own. Born in a fish market, Grenouille is abandoned by his mother and gets sent off to an orphanage, where children arrive by the dozen and are treated like supplies at a godown.Ridiculed by his peers and misunderstood by everyone else, he grows up with no friends and a superhuman ability to distinguish and commit to memory every scent to have ever reached his nose. 

Soon, Grenouille is sold off to be a tanner’s apprentice. A strong,emotionless young man, he works hard and is rewarded by being chosen to go with the tanner to Paris, a city that enthrals him with the plethora of odours it has to offer. Grenouille gets captivated by the scent of a young plum sellar, and follows her to her tiny home. She gets startled by his presence and to avoid discovery, he covers her mouth with his hand to keep her from crying out. Unaware of his own strength, Grenouille suffocates the young woman, and loses her scent forever. Haunted by his inability to preserve scents, he becomes even more detatched and obsessed. His work as an apprentice takes him to the perfumery of a famous, aging perfumer, Guisseppe Baldini ( Dustin Hoffman). He amazes Baldini with his skill, and extracts from the old man a promise to teach him all he knows. He learns that every scent is made of twelve essences, but there is talk of a thirteenth mysterious scent that completes the perfume, making it perfect. Overcome with passion and disappointed in his master’s lack of knowledge of the art of preserving humane scents, an angry Grenouille sets off to the small of Grasse,vowing to make a flawless perfume.

Up until now, the movie is dark yet captivating. Twyker projects every picture as Grenouille sees it,showing a colourful, clustered and overwhelming Paris, with scents that are fantasy for the young Jean, yet sometimes focussing only on the people: their characters, their features and their movements, almost as if to make the viewer sense them like Grenouille does- with their nose. He does an admirable job of keeping the viewers feeling towards the hero undecided, reflecting the questionable morals of the Grenouille shown uptil now.

What follows, however, is a macabre twist in the tale. Controlled only by his passion to preserve human scents, and unhindered by the refusal of a young maiden to aid his endeavour, Grenouille realises that he must kill the people in order to preserve their scent. He mercilessly kills young girls, covers their bodies in animal fat, which he distills later after it has absorbed their scent. He causes an uproar in the town of Grasse, yet does the seemingly impossible act of saving himself from the police. Grenouille picks Laura Richis (Rachel Hurd-Wood) for his thirteenth scent, but her father Antoine Richis ( Alan RIckman) realises what is afoot, and escapes with his daughter too protect her. The scenes that follow depct desparation and dispair; that of Grenouille and his need to finish making the perfect scent , and that of Antoine Richis, whose greatest wish is to protect his lovely young daughter from a gruesome murder. Grenouille succeeds, but gets arrested just as he completes his perfume. Yet before his
execution sentence can be carried out, he uses a drop of his perfume and suddenly, because of the prowess of perfection, he gets named the angel by the people of Grasse.

Grenouille suddenly has everything, yet saddened by the loneliness and the fact that noone loved him for who he was,he goes back to his birthplace,and drains all the perfume.

Essentially, the movie drives home some of the lessons of the modern world, that its very lonely at the top, as Grenouille relaises after achieving his life’s dream, and calls into question some things that we’re taught since birth, that we must put all that we have into achieving what we really want. Grenouille’s character is horrifying, yet the innocence in his eyes is unmistakeable. It seems as if he simply does not realise that its wrong to go after what he wants without a care for what others lose in the process. Whishaw’s acting is powerful, and there is an intensity in his potrayal. He communicates with his expressions and body language, a strength Twyker exploits very well. Whishaw has all of ten minutes worth of dialogues in the movie, yet his acting speaks volumes.

All in all, the movie is well edited. The choice of using people to colour to the surroundings works out well, adding a sensual touch to the scenes. There is, however, a darkness in the plot, making¬† a movie not made for all audiences. Overall, one should watch it for the uniqueness of the story, Whishaw’s acting and good direction. It may horrify and disgust most people, but it’s a surety that everyone will watch it through till the end.

Surabhi Kanga

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