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Friday, 15 January 2016
Perfume (4½ Stars)
Following the death of Alan Rickman yesterday I've decided to watch two of his films. He doesn't appear on screen until halfway through the film, but from that moment on he takes his rightful position dominating the film with his Shakespearian acting. This is in part due to the relative vacuum around the film's main character, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, played by Ben Whishaw. This is, as far as I can see, deliberate. Jean-Baptiste is a man like no other who has ever been born, so no attempts are made to help us empathise with him.
The film takes place in France in the 18th Century, in the years before the Revolution. It was a time of great poverty for the masses, while the small ruling elite lived in luxurious excesses. Jean-Baptiste was born in the fish market of Paris. His mother had no intention of keeping the baby, so he was sent to an orphanage. At the age of eight he was sold to a tannery, where boys had a short life expectancy in the unsanitary working environment.
But as I already mentioned above, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was like no other man. He was gifted with a sense of smell that was phenomenal. He could accurately recognise people and objects by their smell, even at long distances. On the other hand, he had no emotions at all. He was incapable of feeling love, and he didn't even have feelings of lust. For him the only thing that mattered was being able to smell the most beautiful of scents.
If Jean-Baptiste had been content with smelling what was around him he could have lived his life in happiness and anonymity. This changed when he met the beautiful red-haired plum seller, played by Karoline Herfurth. First he was intoxicated by her smell, but then he accidentally killed her, and he was fascinated to realise that immediately after her death she smelt even sweeter. He revelled in this odour, but it faded after a few minutes.
This leads to a life-long obsession. He wants to find a way to preserve the scent of a dying woman. He begins an apprenticeship as a perfumer to learn how to preserve smells. After mastering this skill he sets out to create the ultimate perfume by mixing the scents of 13 dead women. This brings him into conflict with the wealthy nobleman Antoine Richis, played by Alan Rickman, because he needs his daughter for the perfume.
Why does Jean-Baptiste have such an obsession with red-haired girls? Do they really smell better than anyone else? I don't know, because my sense of smell isn't as well developed as hers. However, my eyesight is good enough to verify that both Karoline Herfurth and Rachel Hurd-Wood are stunningly beautiful. I'm sure my readers will agree with me.