Patrick Suskind's ingenious bestseller of 1985 finally gets the film treatment, though whether Tom Tykwer's adaptation will enhance the novel's standing is very doubtful. Short of filming it in "odorama" there seems little Tykwer can bring to a story so heavily dependent on a sense of smell. True, he stages the birth of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) in the oppressively foetid circumstances of an 18th-century Parisian fishmarket, and charts his wretched orphanhood through the hardly less hideous conditions of the tannery into which he has been sold.
Once Grenouille drags himself from the gutter into the relative prosperity of apprenticeship to a perfumier (Dustin Hoffman), Perfume looks poised to be the tragedy of lovelessness that Suskind's book enacted. The youth's supernaturally developed sense of smell leads him on a murderous pursuit of a dream: the distillation of human desire into a perfume bottle.
Sadly, the film loses the scent of its metaphysical inquiry and instead heads off into a drab, suspense-free hunt for a serial killer, whose climax has less of an aromatic amour fou than the ripe whiff of absurdity.
The whippet-lean Whishaw is something of a blank in the lead role, failing to locate either pathos or personality in this scent-driven fiend. Alan Rickman, whose cold command and aquiline schnozzle would have made him the ideal Grenouille 20 years ago, is quite miscast as the father of the flame-haired girl (Rachel Hurd-Wood) whose life is in danger.
Something smells here, but it's not what the makers of Perfume intended.
Released 26 DecemberReuse content