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At the Movies: 'Perfume: The Story of a Murderer' a creepy feast for all the senses

At the Movies: 'Perfume: The Story of a Murderer' a creepy feast for all the senses

Think of "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" as an olfactory version of "The Silence of the Lambs": A perfume maker becomes a serial killer _ or perhaps it's the other way around _ to capture women's scents.
It's a fabulously twisted idea, based on the novel by Patrick Sueskind and sensuously rendered in a fashion that's totally different from German director Tom Tykwer's best-known film, the vibrant "Run Lola Run."
The film is fluidly crafted in Tykwer's style, though _ you especially notice it at the beginning when the future killer, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, is born on the floor of an 18th-century Paris fish market, landing on the ground with a splat amid the guts and blood, grime and stench. It's all as disgusting as it sounds, but the dazzling way it's edited makes the moment strangely beautiful.
Even though "Perfume" is primarily about how things (and more importantly, people) smell, it manages to be a feast for all the senses: the way a woman's curls fall down her back, how the crinkle of fine fabric sounds, the sensation of holding a piece of fruit in your hand.
Grenouille (played by British newcomer Ben Whishaw) doesn't notice all of that, of course; he merely follows his nose. With his wiry frame and intense eyes, Whishaw could be a modern-day Anthony Perkins as he methodically prowls for young girls and tests various methods of turning their essences into the finest perfume.
It's not that his Grenouille has any sexual interest in them _ he's just entranced and obsessed by scent, having been blessed from birth with an unusually powerful proboscis. And we know he's trouble early on from the way the other kids at the orphanage regard him.
"It was not that the other children hated him," we're told in a voiceover from John Hurt. "They felt unnerved by him."
He's both ardent and eerie, appreciative and predatory. His focus is enviable; his drive unflappable. And with a childlike enthusiasm, he doesn't seem to think that what he's doing is wrong. Which would make him a sociopath _ and the ideal figure around whom to center such a visceral thriller. (Tykwer co-wrote the script with Andrew Birkin and Bernd Eichinger.)
And because he's so serene as he goes about his business, Grenouille makes the supporting players seem even more colorful by comparison.
Dustin Hoffman gets to chew the scenery as Guiseppe Baldini, his perfumer mentor. Once the toast of Paris, Baldini has since fallen out of fashion, though he still carries himself with the bravado of a power player. (Hoffman also makes you believe the character's paranoia and insecurity beneath the surface.)
Alan Rickman is typically formidable as the father of the stunning redhead Grenouille seeks most, who will go to whatever lengths he must to protect his little girl when women start dropping at an alarming rate.
But it's the sweet, virginal Laura, played by Rachel Hurd-Wood ("Peter Pan"), who is the ultimate object of Grenouille's affection _ the one he believes will make his cannibalized cologne complete.
What he does with this concoction _ and the effect is has on those who smell is _ is ridiculously over-the-top. It is not only completely unbelievable, even for such a fractured fantasy, but it also takes way too long. ("Perfume" is yet another movie during this bloated season that could have done with about 20 minutes of trimming.)
For a film that had been deeply, lushly delightfully sinister up until this point, the ending is just plain silly. It still looks great, though _ and probably would smell even better.
"Perfume: The Story of a Murderer," a Paramount Pictures release, runs 145 minutes. Three stars out of four.


Updated : 2020-11-30 20:17 GMT+08:00