Tom Tykwer, the accomplished director of such fine films as Paris, je t'aime (2006) (contributor) and Run Lola Run (1998), did a fantastic job with 2006's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.
This film succeeds on almost every level. Shot beautifully by DP Frank Griebe, this film is pretty to look at. Tykwer engages his subject, the gifted Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, with tight close-ups. He plays with foreground, middle ground and background to great effect, making grimy Paris come alive all the while (love the still shots of the row house slum on the bridge).
The film is very dark. Most of the scenes, with the exception of the beautiful panoramas as Grenouille makes his way over the mountains, are shot in muted greys and washed-out browns. When Grenouille is collecting his scents, however, Tykwer lights many of the women in innocent whites and soft oranges. There is an arresting, difficult montage early on in the film, illustrating the minutes-old Grenouille's superior sense of smell.
The narrative is pretty unique. It's a common story (outsider with a gift seeks fortune by creating something transcendent), but with an interesting twist: Grenouille is trying to create the world's most powerful perfume, and he's obsessed with collecting the finest essential oils.
To create said oils, he needs to capture the essence of beautiful women.
That many of his victims are virginal, including a nun, only adds to the complexity of his creation.
Alan Rickman gives a good performance as the protective and wealthy father of one of Grenouille's targets. Ben Whishaw is more than up to the task as Grenouille; his turn was so unsettling (all those flared nostrils!) that he'll have a hard time putting this performance behind him. Ed Norton was able to get well beyond what he did in Primal Fear. I'm not so sure Whishaw can do the same.
Whishaw's excellent performance aside, the scene stealer here is Dustin Hoffman, an exacting perfumer on the downside of his career. He traipses angrily through a couple of scenes, drinking splashes of wine here and there and growling in his French accent. Funny and compelling and wholly entertaining.
I give Perfume an 'A' grade. My wife thought the third act a little unnecessary, but I think it suited the story. And the final twist is just delicious--if you've seen the film, you know what I mean.
Rent this one, folks. It won't disappoint.