I’m not sure quite how Alan Rickman and Dustin Hoffman ended up in this strange film about a young Parisian orphan, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who was born beneath a fish stall with an incredibly enhanced sense of smell. Hoffman is reasonably good as the (dodgily accented – Italian?) perfumier who eventually buys the young man out of slavery to teach him how to formulate commercial perfumes. Rickman is better, although he doesn’t appear until about the third act of the 147-minute film.
The film’s about how Jean-Baptiste becomes obsessed with capturing and preserving scents, in particular, the scent of beautiful women. I did find it a bit odd that he was entranced only by the scent of visually beautiful women – I’m sure there are beautiful-looking women who smell bad and vice versa…
So, anyway, it’s not easy to capture a human being’s scent and, after some trial and error, he discovers a method that works. It involves killing the woman first but this doesn’t appear to put him off his quest.
About 13 murders later, he’s finally apprehended and (returning to the scene at the start of the film) is taken to be executed. And that’s where it starts to get silly.
Up until the execution scene, which is unnecessarily long, heavy-handed, and ridiculous, the film is enjoyable and probably deserving of the four stars awarded by EmpireOnline (although, the unnecessary and rather patronising narrator does bring it closer to three stars for me).
I think it’s worth seeing, although I did hear some other people expressing their disappointment in it on leaving the cinema. I thought it was an interesting approach to see the serial killer from the serial killer’s perspective. Although, while you can feel sympathy for his background, Jean-Baptiste seems to be completely without emotion or feeling for anything except smells and you never really know what he’s thinking. The film does tension well thoughout. It also manages to evoke smells with visuals, in particular when Jean-Baptiste first goes to a market as an adult and smells the foods and spices around him.