This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Not only does "Perfume" seem impossible to film, it must have been amost impossible for Patrick Suskind to write. How do you describe the ineffable enigma of a scent in words? The audiobook, read by Sean Barrett, is the best audio performance I have ever heard; he snuffles and sniffles his way to greatness and you almost believe he is inhaling bliss, or the essence of a stone. I once almost destroyed a dinner party by putting it on for "five minutes," after which nobody wanted to stop listening.
Patrick Suskind's famous novel involves a twisted little foundling whose fishwife mother casually births him while chopping off cod heads. He falls neglected into the stinking charnel house that was Paris 300 years ago, and is nearly thrown out with the refuse. But Grenouille grows into a grim, taciturn survivor (Ben Whishaw), who possesses two extraordinary qualities: he has the most acute sense of smell in the world, and has absolutely no scent of his own.
This last attribute is ascribed by legend to the spawn of the devil, but the movie "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" makes no mention of this possibility, wisely limiting itself to vile if unnamed evil. Grenouille grows up as a tanner, voluptuously inhaling the world's smells, and eventually talks himself into an apprenticeship with Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), a master perfumer, now past his prime, whose shop is on an overcrowded medieval bridge on the Seine.
Mention of the bridge evokes the genius with which director Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") evokes a medieval world of gross vices, all-pervading stinks and crude appetites. In this world, perfume is like the passage of an angel -- some people think, literally. Grenouille effortlessly invents perfect perfumes, but his ambition runs deeper; he wants to distill the essence of copper, stone and beauty itself. In pursuit of this last ideal he becomes a gruesome murderer.