I will completely admit that I put off watching Perfume: the Story of a Murderer (2006) until a few weeks ago. Lots of people were excited when it first came out, and while I was vaguely intrigued by a few of the costumes, I was put off by the idea of watching a movie about a guy who was going to go around sniffing and murdering women. It sounded very Silence of the Lambs, 18th-century-style, which just isn’t my bag. But now that I have this quest to watch “every” 18th-century movie out there, I decided it was time to fire it up.
Overall, yes, there is definitely some gross elements to this, and some unattractive focus on sniffing, and views of the seedy side of the 18th century. On the other hand, it’s not scary or disgusting. The film is well made, and the story is interesting enough. So, I admit, I was probably silly to avoid it … but I don’t know if I’d watch it again!
The story is set in mid-18th-century Paris and concerns Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who is literally born in filth but with a super-human sense of smell. He trucks along in life until he discovers perfume and the lay-deez (okay, their scent more than anything else). He manages to apprentice himself to a perfume maker and, as the title implies, also starts killing people — women, specifically, in an attempt to capture their scent. Later, he goes to Provence in an attempt to further improve his scent-capturing abilities, and things go downhill.
There are a couple of big name performers — Dustin Hoffman plays the perfume-maker who takes Jean-Baptiste on as an apprentice, and Alan Rickman is the Provencal town official whose daughter becomes Jean-Baptiste’s obsession. I particularly enjoyed Hoffman, mostly because they did a great job putting him into 18th-century-appropriate makeup:
The men’s wigs were also really well done — accurate styles, clearly Wigs, and sometimes nicely powdered:
You can guess that I rolled my eyes at the ingenue’s hair. I can accept that if you’re a dirt poor street urchin, there isn’t anything you can do about your red hair:
But while it was GORGEOUS, Laura’s red hair was 1) painfully unfashionable and 2) RINGLET-ING ALL OVER THE PLACE. I’m sure they were trying to show that she was natural and innocent and un-artful.
Costumes in Perfume: Story of a Murderer
Overall, the costumes were nicely done! I wished Laura (uh, maybe we could call her Laure and have her sound vaguely French?) would have had a few more outfits, but those that she did were very pretty:
What got me particularly excited were all the Provencal prints on minor characters and extras. The south of France was a leader in terms of wearing cotton prints, which were imported via the port of Marseille. Many of the prints that we today think of as Provencal can be seen as far back as the mid-18th century in paintings and surviving garments from southern France. It was slightly strange that Laura never wore them, but maybe the filmmakers were trying to show that she was a class above everyone else?
Compare them with a painting by Antoine Raspal, who painted women in Arles (in southern France) in the late 18th century:
Settings in Perfume: Story of a Murderer
I’ll also add that there was some great scenery and locations. First, check out this great matte painting showing of one of Paris’s bridges:
And anyone who has traveled in Provence knows it’s all about the landscape and the flowers and the colors. They had some beautiful shots that really captured that magic:
Finally, Two Critter-Related Spoilers
1. POOR KITTY
2. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DOG??!!
I spent the entire second half of the movie stressing about this poor puppy, and it’s never resolved, and so I am traumatized.