I usually don’t comment on movies. Yesterday, however, I watched a 2007 film called Perfume, about an 18th century perfumer named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (frog?!). This film affected me to the point where it disoriented the rest of my day. It is one of the most disturbing collections of images I’ve ever seen. Grenouille is born in a market stall to a mother who is hanged for attempted (and previously actual) infanticide. He is raised in an orphanage that makes “Dickensian” a compliment, and then is sold to a tanner who makes up in brutality what he lacks in brains. He convinces a perfumer to take him on as an apprentice and makes the perfumer (Dustin Hoffman) the toast of Paris. For Grenouille’s gift from God is his nose–he is able to distinguish and hold scents, then try to recreate them. And therein lies the tragedy of 13 women the apprentice perfumer murders not from malice but to capture their scents, as a scientific experiment. Ultimately he wants to develop the greatest of all scents, the one that will make him beloved and seen as angelic.
He is caught and sentenced to a horrid death. But it never happens. Why? Well, that’s the part you have to see for yourself. It has to do with his aspirations. It’s unbelievable but perfectly credible if you accept that a man can have no scent of his own, no shadow (shades of Richard Strauss), and absolutely no identity. There is no There there–Grenouille is a cipher who kills but who wants to be a man and more.
It is a terrifying and wonderful film with the likes of not only Dustin Hoffman but also Alan Rickman moving about. I can’t remember the name of the lead: he’s too good at what he does.