Friday, June 8, 2007

Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Hurd-Wood

"He lived to find beauty. He killed to possess it."

12th French Film Festival, Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex

An olfactory visual feast about a young man, Jean Baptiste Grenouille who is on a quest to find the perfect scent. His quest turns into a dark obsession fraught with the murder of innocent young women. This movie based on a book entitled "Das Parfume" by German author Patrick Suskind. A clear crisp narration by an uncredited John Hurt ably guides you through the film. It starts off with a pretty bleak story of a very unusual young man. A young man misunderstood by society, incapable of forming human relationships but with a keen sense of smell which affects everything in his sight and in his life. It is set in 18th century France which was described by the narration as:
"In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. Naturally, the stench was foulest in Paris, for Paris was the largest city in Europe."
So from the onset you brace yourself for a dismal depiction of a sad pathetic life. Yet as the movie progresses, you become a silent witness through the portrayal of the different scenes to Jean Baptiste's numerous experiences in his 'smelly' world. Cinematography was artistic to say the least with vivid scenes of a bright lavender field, the dark stinky marketplace of Paris to the lush greenery of the French countryside or the slow motion drop of compressed perfume oil. Haunting sounds effects of a beating heartbeat, the wails of a newly born baby as well as an operatic aria during some vital scenes gave the film some character. It is only towards the ending that the plot gets a bit convoluted and it seems a bit disjointed from the rest of the film. An odd and puzzling ending which is probably best explained in the book leaves you scratching your head and pondering "what was that all about?".

Dustin Hoffman was a revelation as the mentor who teaches Jean Baptiste Grenouille everything about the perfumery trade. A short but significant role nonetheless. Alan Rickman is always effective in any role he portrays. But the main praise goes to the young actor, Ben Whishaw who portrays Jean Baptiste. His innocent looking face sparkles each time he discovers a new scent. You can't help but totally commiserate with his fate. The whole movie naturally revolves around him. Whishaw's acting although a bit stiff in some scenes was overall credible and effective.

By the way, the film is entirely in English and not a single French word was uttered by anybody in the cast who ironically sported English accents not even trying to sound French at all. Strange! There is a hidden symbolic meaning to the rather bewildering ending but that shouldn't put you off the fact that Perfume is a very well made yet complex movie. But it is probably not really suited for every one's tastes.

According to Guiseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) a scent has 3 chords. The head, the heart and the base. The head is the first impression you get from the smell. The heart is the main soul of the perfume. The base is the trail that lingers long after the scent has evaporated. I'd say this film also has 3 chords. You are first awed then you discover who Jean Baptiste really is and finally you realize it is one cinematic feast which will linger in your mind long after you've left the theater.

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