Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (film)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (German Das Parfum – Die Geschichte eines Mörders) is a 2006 German film directed by Tom Tykwer based on the novel Perfume by Patrick Süskind.

Plot

Set in 18th century France, the film tells the story of a misanthropic, olfactory genius, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) and his homicidal quest for the perfect scent.

The film begins with the sentencing of Grenouille, a notorious murderer. Between the reading of the sentence and the execution, the story of his life is told in flashback, beginning with his abandonment at birth in a French fish market. Raised in an orphanage, Grenouille grows into a strangely detached boy with a superhuman sense to smell. After growing to maturity as a tanner's apprentice, he makes his first delivery to Paris, where he revels in the new odors. He focuses on a girl selling plums and startles her with his behavior. To prevent her from crying out, he covers the girl's mouth and unintentionally suffocates her. After realizing that she is dead, he strips her body naked and smells her until the scent fades. Afterwards, Grenouille becomes haunted by the desire to preserve scents forever.

After making a delivery to a perfume shop, Grenouille amazes the owner, Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), with his ability to create fragrances. He revitalizes the perfumer's career with new formulas, demanding only that Baldini teach him how to convert scents into perfume. Baldini explains that all perfumes are harmonies of twelve individual scents, and may contain a theoretical thirteenth scent. He also tells a story about a perfume discovered in an Egyptian tomb that was so perfect that it affected the entire world the moment the bottle was opened. However, when Grenouille discovers that Baldini's method will not capture all scents, he becomes depressed and leaves to learn superior methods in Grasse. En route to Grasse, Grenouille realizes that he has no scent of his own, and is therefore a cipher. He decides that creating the perfect smell will prove his worth.

Grenouille finds work in Grasse assisting with perfumes. After some experimenting, he succeeds in preserving the scent of a woman by cutting her hair, covering her in animal fat, and then distilling the fat. To force the woman to undergo the procedure, however, he must kill her. Grenouille embarks on a killing spree, murdering beautiful virgins and capturing their scents. He dumps the girls' naked corpses around the city, creating an uproar that threatens to tear the city apart. Nearing completion, Grenouille selects a beautiful young lady, Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood), for his thirteenth scent, the lynchpin of his perfect perfume. Laura's wealthy father, Antoine Richis (Alan Rickman) realizes the danger and attempts to flee the city with his daughter. Grenouille tracks her scent to a roadside inn and sneaks into her room that night. The next morning, Richis discovers Laura lying dead in her bed.

Soldiers capture Grenouille moments after he finishes his perfume. On the day of his execution, he applies a drop of the perfume to himself. The executioner and the crowd in attendance are overwhelmed by the beauty of the perfume. They declare Grenouille innocent before falling into an orgy. Walking out of Grasse unscathed, Grenouille has enough perfume to rule the world, but has discovered that it will not allow him to love or be loved like a normal person. He returns to the fish market where he was born and empties his perfume bottle over his head. Overcome by the scent, the nearby crowd devours him.

Cast

  • Ben Whishaw as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a young man with a powerful sense of smell. He murders more than a dozen women to create the perfect scent.
  • Dustin Hoffman as Giuseppe Baldini, a washed-up perfumer who first teaches Grenouille how to capture smells and create perfume.
  • Rachel Hurd-Wood as Laura Richis, a beautiful lady and the subject of Grenouille's attention. Her scent, he feels, will complete his collection.
  • Alan Rickman as Antoine Richis, Laura's wealthy and powerful father.
  • Corinna Harfouch as Madame Arnulfi, a perfumer in Grasse who employs Grenouille at her flower garden.
  • Karoline Herfurth as The Plum Girl, Grenouille's first victim. Grenouille is forever haunted by the fact that, in killing her, he lost the sublime beauty that was her scent.
  • John Hurt as the Narrator.

Reception/box office

As of October 2006, the film had received mixed reviews by critics. Reuters described the movie as "visually lush, fast-moving story", stating as well that the director "has a sure sense of spectacle and, despite its faults, the movie maintains its queasy grip". "You may not savor it", Roger Ebert wrote, "but you will not stop watching it, in horror and fascination". Rotten Tomatoes lists a 57% "Rotten" rating, quoting: "A kinetic visual feast with an antihero that's impossible to feel sympathy for". The film was a financial success, especially in Europe, earning $135 million worldwide. However, it was deemed unmarketable for American audiences and released in a very limited number of theaters in North America, taking in a modest $2,223,293.



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