Reel Reviews | Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

by Tim Gordon

Last month, I was in the middle of cinematic “agony and ecstasy.” As president of the Washington Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), November and December are my favorite months of the year to view movies because what you’re looking at usually are most of the best of the year. There is such a large amount of year-end inventory that some days you could easily watch a minimum of three.

Unfortunately, there is usually a stinker or two in the batch and no film left me and my colleagues more speechless than Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

Side story, Jeanette Catsoulis, a good friend of mine and fellow critic LOVES this film and had it on her top ten list. With apologies to Jeanette, as that great American songwriter Larry Graham once sang, You’re One in A Million regarding this film!

This films introduces the main character by having his mother give birth to him while working an outdoor vending booth. She goes into labor, spits the baby out, takes a dirty knife severs the cord, and unceremoniously kicks the baby under the table! One of the nastiest things I’ve seen on film (and I’ve seen a lot!). This young boy, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, has a very special talent – the gift of smell. You see he has a nose that with one whiff can detect and break down any smell and from long distance, no less. (One would wonder how a person with this gift could even survive smelling his disgusting 18th century French surroundings; that’s another story)

He befriends Baldini a master perfumer (a very disheveled looking Dustin Hoffman) and in no time, Jean-Baptiste is creating White Diamonds, Chanel and any other popular fragrance of his day. But Jean-Baptiste just doesn’t have the gift; he’s got to use it to make the perfect perfume. See Baldini told him that every basic perfume has 12 basic ingredients, but Jean-Baptiste wants to take his smell game to the next level and create perfection. In order to accomplish that, he needs to find the secret ingredient.

That’s when the story turns all Charles Manson, Ted Bundy and Beltway sniper. Turns out the missing ingredient is young, pretty WHITE women. (“No Sisters were killed during the making of this film!”)

In no time at all, Jean-Baptiste is a wanted man (but hey, he is creating some incredible fragrances) and on the run. Many of the scenes throughout, as well as the bizarre ending of this film, had a room full of critics laughing as if they were sitting at a Richard Pryor concert. I think the scene that sent everyone over the top occurred when our hero, who is about to be beheaded, puts some Love Potion #9 on a handkerchief and waves it around like an extra on Queer Eye and the entire crowd breaks into a Caligula-like orgy! (clearly, I would love to be on the set of a film, watch a ridiculous scene and wait for the director to tell me that is a part of the “film’s vision.” HA!)

Well the scene nor the movie work. With apologies to Jeanette, the book may have been great but every good book doesn’t translate to success on the big screen. Certainly this film proves the axiom, “the cinematic road to hell is paved with malodorous intentions.”

Grade: F