Tom Tykwer ably brings the almost unfilmable Perfume to the screen

PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER DIRECTED BY Tom Tykwer 2006 Paramount Home Video JASON LEWIS Ever since it was announced that Patrick Süskind’s novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer was being adapted to film fans of the book have been wondering how the heck they would pull it off. Perfume’s darkly funny and beautifully violent prose would be tough for any filmmaker to adapt but the biggest stumbling block would have to be how any director could tell a story so reliant on scent in a medium as visual as film. Perfume is the story of a man whose life is defined by his keen olfactory sense. In fact Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) is driven well past the point of propriety by his sense of smell. Greedily consuming new scents whenever possible he becomes obsessed with preserving those he finds most delightful. His job as a perfumer’s apprentice in 18th century France opens the door but Grenouille’s lax moral compass means that in his quest to find the perfect bouquet he becomes a notorious serial killer. Admittedly the film version of Perfume has the deck stacked against it. Even with supporting turns by Alan Rickman and Dustin Hoffman the rest of the cast is composed of relative unknowns. Whishaw is an odd looking bloke who has the difficult task of making a sympathetic character out of a misunderstood outcast with a body count. Add to that the lurid subject matter a two-hour plus running time and a hard R rating for violence sexual content and disturbing images and the target demographic for the film narrows almost to a pinprick. It’s unfortunate that so few people saw this film in the theatre because director Tom Tykwer shows a remarkably deft hand. As the man behind the lens for Run Lola Run Tykwer established a unique style which he uses to great effect in Perfume. Through rapid-fire editing techniques he creates a visual shorthand that illustrates Grenouille’s nasal obsession. With a few simple cuts he hurdles the film’s biggest potential stumbling block. With that out of the way Tykwer simply tells the story morbid as it is. The childlike Grenouille slowly realizes what he’s becoming but can’t help himself. Whishaw’s sunken face and glassy eyes go a long way towards humanizing Grenouille and he rarely sinks into pathos. His performance is just one example of the film’s excellent sense of balance. Süskind’s source material pulls plausibility to a tenuous tension but it never snaps. Both Rickman and Hoffman deliver curious performances yet they are in perfect step with the film. Reinhold Heil’s cinematography offers some of the most beautifully ugly footage in recent memory. And with help from bone-dry narration by the brilliant John Hurt Perfume walks the line between being darkly comic and brutally disturbing. Accented by a near-perfect score (which Tykwer contributed to) Perfume has all the makings of a modern albeit well left-of-centre classic.