Hey folks, Harry here with a pair of love letters sent in by readers that were part of a test screening audience that caught the first screening of Tom Tykwer's PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER. It seems the film is everything I was hoping for. Now... I just have to fucking wait till goddamn DECEMBER!!!!! ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!! This first review is spoiler free...
Been reading your site for years...never contributed, but I just got back from a screening of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and had a brief chat with Tom Tykwer outside afterwards. I have to say that as a huge fan of the novel since it came out nearly twenty years ago, I doubted that a good film could be made of this strange and recalcitrant novel...but I was more than pleased with what Tykwer was able to do with it. Obviously, there were some technical problems in that certain scenes hadn't been color-corrected, there was mostly temp music, and some scenes were even digital elements transferred to film for this screening, but all in all it was a fantastic success. It's a dark film, and I don't want to include any spoilers here because I think it's a film that needs to be experienced without knowing any plot twists (unless you know the book of course).
First off, it's a remarkably faithful adaptation of the book, with the very big exception being that the lead character has been humanized and is almost sympathetic, which i believe to be a good thing; it adds a poignancy that was lacking in Susskind's novel. The technical elements are excellent, and acting very strong across the board, especially from Ben Whishaw in the lead. The only false note, surprisingly, was Dustin Hoffman who seemed to be in a different movie.
Tykwer was humble afterwards, because I think the general sense from the audience (and apparently from studio execs that were present) is that a critical scene at the end is too dark and audacious for American audiences. But, hopefully, since it will be released in Europe a few months before we get the finished film here, it will generate enough positive buzz to keep American distributers from hacking the end before its release.
The biggest surprise is that Tykwer was really able to create a cinematic sense of smell. Through crafty camerawork and an intricate sound design, the movie absolutey transports you into Grenouille's world.
I know this movie has had a difficult time getting to the big screen, but Tykwer, who next to Lars Von Trier is - to me- one of the most interesting filmmakers working in Europe, really pulled it off, and I just hope that it finds an audience in the U.S..
you can call me Kubrickalien
However this next reviewer did dip into spoilers here and there so watch out. One thing is clear from this pair of reviews... this is one of the films that all movie lovers need to put on their calendars. Sounds fantastic!
Hey Harry, Mori, Quint, Merrick...
I've gotten a whiff of something you might be interested in. Tonight I attended a test screening for Tom Tykwer's adaptation of Patrick Suskind's novel "Perfume: The Story Of A Murder." Leave it up to LA and the Arclight to provide such a screening.
I was not familiar with the book until a few months back when I saw the teaser trailer, heard the premise and was sold. I ran out and got the book (Well actually I had to wait for it to come in at the library. yes I am a cheapskate) I started to read and really enjoyed the first fifty pages. Then after that it was a love hate relationship. The style was very Dostoevsky/Balzac. The pages of descriptions about what ingredients our protagonist was mixing to make perfumes out of, completely halted the narrative for me. I finished the book, with mixed reactions. I loved the idea, the setting and first and last half.
So it was that I went in to the film with lowered expectations...
The cut we saw was a 2 and a half hour one projected on what appeared to be an HD tape, with unfinished effects shots, some temp music and partial narration from John Hurt and a filler voice.
Needless to say, I cannot wait (with some hesitation) for the December US release.
OK, down to the good stuff (Minor Spoilers)...
Our story, if you are not familiar, is about an extraordinary man born in a time of extraordinary things: 18th century France. This man is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) and he has no odor of his own to speak of. Yet what he has in it's place is the world's greatest nose. His olfactory senses are where it's at. He is an awkward young man. An alien, an outcast, the usual stuff. His desire is to store, take, bottle every scent in the world. It is his obsession and it takes him to the edge. What we get next is an exhaustive, epic, poetic and graphic study of his leranings, his travels and his experiments, which all lead up to his ultimate desire to create such a scent that the world would grovel at his feet and declare him an angel. To do this he must extract the most loveliest odors from the most loveliest young woman, ending with the end all be all beauty, young socialite Laura Richis (Rachel Hurd Wood)
Too bad her father (Alan Rickman) is around to spoil Grenouille's plans. But if there wasn't a challenge here, what would be the point?
A story that is grounded in such a world of smell, with your main character barely uttering a word is a tough thing to adapt. Tykwer and his colleagues do it justice and are able to give us Grenouille's perception of the world through scent with decent results. Camera movement, the speed at which it moves at and the angles, are the main tools, nothing too flashy and overtly hokey, though there are a few instances where it feels a bit too over the top and almost rears into action movie moves. But they are quick and forgivable.
With that said the film is a joy to look at, even on the cruddy HD tape. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen Tykwer's "Run, Lola, Run" that he is adapt at painting a unique and highly cinematic landscape.
The atmosphere of the piece is chilling. It is not necessarily a cold film- at parts it is incredibly lovely and warm- but there is an underlying wickedness to it, a condemning of the sickness of humanity. And there is an extreme delight the filmmakers take in all of this.
Acting wise this is Ben Whishaw's film by default. We frankly don't get enough of any of the other characters to warrant them any real leeway here.
Whishaw, rightly coming from a theatre background, does some remarkable stuff here. This is almost entirely a silent, physical performance. The great thing here is the subtly. The way he uses his eyes, his nose. The way he twitches, holds his arms- almost limping at times.
This is an intuitive character who does not understand that what he is doing is necessarily wrong. One could say he is an innocent, naive boy. Others would say he is a monster, a devil. He plays both extremely well.
This is a great thing for me as I perceived Grenouille physically very different in the book. It seems there he is much more of a grotesque, a hunchback, true to his namesake, a Frog. It was wise of the filmmakers not to go that route. Grenouille is not a character you can really sympathize with and if they had made him visually repulsive, the movie would not have worked for most audiences.
Dustin Hoffman appears in the second act as the perfumer, Baldini, the man who teaches Grenouille some tricks of the trade. Obviously Hoffman is here for his name selling sake only. He gives the poorest of the four main characters. He is almost over the top, but acceptable enough to watch. What he does with his accent though is wacko. In a film where all other characters are French folks with British accents, he goes off and plays an Italian trying to sound French and somehow coming off a bit Japanese at times. Then again it was kinda nice to see a very old, stripped down Hoffman in white powder makeup. But it was also quite sad.
Alan Rickman as the suspecting papa of Laure is good enough. As Rickman does with his Snape role, he seems to just play the piano in the dark, hitting most of the right notes as he goes along. There just isn't enough of him to warrant anything else.
Rachel Hurd Wood as Laura looks innocent, young and pretty. She's actually grown quite a bit since "Peter Pan" and might be deemed hot by some. She doesn't do much else than this, but gives reason enough for Grenouille to pluck this rare flower from her roots.
Though we were told the music was temp, I'm sure some of it was Tykwer's score... And here is where the movie really hit me hard. I probably loved the film an extra 20% just because of the score. Some chilling ambient, echo type stuff with a lot of eerie choir. If everything was temp, then wow, everything fit perfectly.
The film at two and a half hours did not feel long to me. It had a nice steady build up and pace. Editing wise, I don't think there is a lot they should cut. A few experiment and odor detecting montages could be trimmed, but other than that I'd think they'd lose something crucial.
The before mentioned narration was throughout the film, and as so much of the story development/exposition was internal, told through this. And wow, it worked. It worked because it added to what we were seeing on screen. And John Hurt is well John Hurt: classy, sly and a bit wicked, all the while being matter of fact.
Now the ending of the book is a controversial one. Many feared it would be changed for the film. It has not and the climax is quite unique, bold and just stylistically grand. As a whole, the film is a faithful adaptation along the lines of what Jackson did with LOTR, retaining the spirit of the original while tweaking the story a bit for film.
Now obviously I am worried about reaction to the end, particularly in the states. I really hope they don't chicken out and change or edit it. The film overall, is not for the mainstream American audience, with it's European sensibilities. The violence and gore are forth right throughout, as is any sexual innuendos. These things must stay intact as it is crucial to the story, the world and our character. Some might say things get perverse and disturbing, even anti- establishment/religion. The folks who can't stomach this stuff, shouldn't see the film.
This is why I look forward to the December release with slight hesitation. I can only cross my fingers that the execs aren't all daft assholes...
So yup, I thought the film was spectacular. It really looks to be gearing up as one of my favorites for the year. Better than the book in my opinion. What went wrong there, succeed here.
I have to commend the filmmakers for making such a bold, unique and majestic film.
If you use this call me Berg-Man.