Perfume [1991]

Genre: Drama
Based on Patrick Suskind's novel about a serial killer who hunts victims with his superhuman sense of smell, Perfume: Story of a Murderer is a florid, grisly portrayal of this historical drama set in 18th century France. Jean-Baptiste Grunuis (Ben Whishaw) is born under his mother's table at the fish market, onto a pile of muddy fish guts, establishing from the beginning his repulsion for putrid scents. A childhood of neglect and, later, a job at a tannery, encourage Jean-Baptiste to develop his olfactory sense rather than his verbal skills, so that an opportunity to prove his worth to Parisian perfumist, Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), results in his immediate hire into a promising new career. His successes in perfume mixing are negated by a blinding obsession for capturing the sublime beauty of human soul, which in his twisted logic requires the killing of young women to reduce their body fats to essential oils for the ultimate, cannibalized eau de parfum. An omniscient narrator tells the story with much sympathy for Jean-Baptiste's perverted psychology, making it, often, too obvious that his need for love justifies his murderous desire to capture misguided sexual attractions in a vile. Continuous close-ups of Grunius's nose, countered by close-ups of the places and objects he smells, enhance the viewer's understanding of his sensitivity. Repeated comparisons are made between the killer and dogs who aid, then expose his sick experimentation. The settings are fascinating, especially Baldini's perfumery and some later scenes in enflorage factories outside Provence. Whishaw's and Hoffman's performances are both grand. But Perfume unnecessarily spells out Jean-Baptiste's psychosis, squelching any chance for metaphor. This is unfortunate, considering the story's paradoxical nature. As this crude hunter navigates his way through a world of utmost delicacy, one craves ambiguity rather than explanation. --Trinie Dalton

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