Despite being born in one of the poorest parts of France in the 18th century, Jean-Baptiste (Ben Whishaw, Layer Cake) was gifted with a special ability—an extraordinary sense of smell. Not surprisingly, he dedicates himself to creating the perfect perfume, and believes that this magical fragrance comes from the essence of women. Driven by his obsession, Jean-Baptiste finds himself resorting to brutal means just to fulfill his dream.
The story, based on the novel by Patrick Suskind and adapted by Andrew Berkin (The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc) and Bernd Eichinger (Downfall), is a simple, but very compelling one. Throw in a winning cast of Dustin Hoffman (I Heart Huckabees) as eccentric perfumer Giuseppe Baldini, John-Baptiste’s mentor, and Alan Rickman (Snow Cake) as Antoine Richis, the father of one of Jean-Baptiste’s victims, and you have a powerful combination.
We particularly love the way Jean-Baptiste is portrayed—not as a mindless psychopath, but a genuinely sympathetic character. Whishaw, of course, has a huge part in the main character’s appeal. From his mannerisms right down to his expressions and physical embodiment, he owns his role better than anyone else we could think of. Hoffman plays his role with his usual brilliant comedic timing, and steals every scene he is in. And although Rickman has given better performances than this, he is still a joy to watch as a tormented father. The rest of the cast delivers decent performances, but there is no way that anyone else in this film could’ve matched up to the high standards set by these three.
It certainly isn’t easy to make scent the key subject in a visual medium like film. But director Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run) has done a remarkable job creating visuals (including a beautiful orgy scene that is as spectacular as it is controversial) that represent the olfactory bliss and hardships that Jean-Baptiste experiences. A visually stunning tour-de-force, with fantastic acting and a jaw-dropping finale to boot, Perfume is an absolute dream from start to finish.