Netflix Review: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

PS: WordPress is changing my picture format every time I click “update.” Sorry for the inconsistencies! 

In the mood for an epic film churning with emotional intensity and controversial subject matter? Then Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is the perfect blend. It starts with an element of the fantastical, journeys through a torrid middle, and finishes with the mystery of life weighing on one’s mind. This movie has a potent message, and it definitely lingers. (Alright, I’ll stop with the perfume puns…Maybe.)

Perfume’s lead actor, Ben Wishaw, will not stop with his quirky charm.

I really don’t want to give anything away; the experience of discovering this film is as entertaining as it is remarkable. The basic premise, however, is as follows: A young man in 18th century France is born with a superhuman sense of smell and longs to discover how to preserve the scent of a woman (in, you guessed it, perfume-which according to “Italian” Dustin Hoffman is pronounced PERfume).

It is not a gruesome film in particular, but there are many images that will challenge and most likely disgust. For one thing, much of it takes place in the poor districts of Enlightenment Era France (brought to life by some respectable art direction). This was a time when many were starving and few were actually experiencing “Enlightenment.” This is that great time in fledgling Modern Europe when people felt all the negative effects of industrialization without any of the governmental protections or medical benefits. Basically, the lack of hygiene is palpable.

Don’t worry. You won’t turn into a newt.

This extreme sensory effect, however, is just where the film’s strength lies. Perfume’s lasting effect is definitely not due to Dustin Hoffman’s strange Italian “accent” he tries to pull off (which is basically just Dustin Hoffman being a fancier Dustin Hoffman). Luckily, Hoffman has a natural appeal that carries him through this oddly bequeathed role. He might defy the film’s overall seriousness, but it appears intentional. After we move on from his character the story becomes progressively direr. The film’s final third revives its own brand of dark humor and self-awaredness to great effect.

Perfume relies on its plot’s improbability and a strangely relatable lead actor to make its stark, gritty, and sometimes mind-bending subject matter easier to watch. Additionally, the film is of an amoral point of view, and leaves the viewer to decide how to feel about our anti-hero.

Don’t expect an anti-hero like this one, as lovely as he may be.

I also must say the film is worth watching just for Alan Rickman’s acting (Yep, he’s in this!). He rarely disappoints, but this character genuinely seems like a real person who has had the unfortunate luck of crossing paths with a murderer. This is especially true compared to the pretense of Hoffman’s character (Alright, I’ll lay off him. He does a fine job.)

Especially when he smells PERfume.
I do have to say one solid constructive critique: The film begins with voiceover narration, paired with some reenactments of the anti-hero’s childhood. I feel a movie needs only one or the other: strong visuals OR voiceover. Voiceover is a last resort, in most cases. The entire film operates quite effectively without voiceover, dealing with abstract olfactory experiences and complicated emotions in innovative ways. Upon further reflection the audible narration serves as a way of adding a slight whimsy to our main character’s plight, but I just wanted to warn any viewers who share my bias: Stick through the narration. You’ll be happier for having taken a whiff of the breath of fresh air that is Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. (Sorry, I tried.)

Have you seen Perfume? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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