Posted by: Ben | December 14, 2008

100 Movies: Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer

(Film. Tykwer. Germany, 2006)

Has there ever been a really good film with a colon in the title? Even Star Wars was better before it was rebranded as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. With some scepticism I check and can confirm that “The Story Of A Murderer” was in fact the original subtitle of the novel, before recent editions quietly shifted it off the cover, at least in English versions. Still it allowed me to watch a film called Perfume without worrying that I might catch gay, so I shouldn’t be too harsh on it. That’s a joke, of course. You can’t catch gay from a Tykwer film. Not with all the fit redheads.

The plot: You know how, like, most babies smell like butter? Well, the smell of Perfume’s protagonist smells like no other. In fact you might even say that he was born scentless. He gets a job as an apprentice. But they can’t fire him, because he quits.

It’s really two films in one. The first half is all artsy with its narration by the Elephant Man and its audiovisual interpretation of smells, which was never in a million years going to work onscreen but the filmmakers shouldn’t be criticised for trying. Then in the second half, when Whishaw takes up murdering in earnest, it turns into a Batman movie. Whishaw’s exaggerated sense of smell and lack of personal odour becomes a superpower allowing him to track people across miles of countryside and walk around in the dark completely undetected, while richest guy in town Rickman becomes head investigator and uncannily intuits the killer’s motives in a manner which calls to mind Cracker. Then there’s an obligatory torture scene, because everything produced by Western culture since 2003 has to reference the War On Terror in some way, even if it’s an ITV reality singing gameshow.

The sets, like the ladieez, are gorgeous and Whishaw is about as convincing as it’s possible to be as an idiot savant, and like all idiot savants in movies for some reason, he is of course supposed to represent the id, which is why everyone has an orgy at the end when they realise how great he is. Also Christ. And speaking of the end, am I being thick or is the final sentence of novel and film one of the most cynical and spiteful codas to a story in modern times?

*** (out of a possible *****)

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