starring Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Karoline Herfurth, David Calder, Simon Chandler and Dustin Hoffman
screenplay by Andrew Birkin, Bernd Eichinger and Tom Tykwer
directed by Tom Tykwer
Based on the novel by Patrick Süskind, this is an excellent 18th century murder story. You must see it. Alan Rickman is a great actor, and it is refreshing to see him in something otherthan a Harry Potter movie.
You all know how powerful smell is as a memory cue. It’s phenomenal. My memories of the smell of my mother’s kitchen in the autumn, or the Christmas season, or the smell of dinner on a dark and rainy night, or the warm smell of the house during a heavy snow storm outside are very moving. Today I can still recall the smell of tobacco leaves form the Imperial Tobacco plant in Guelph where I worked for three summers during university (at $13/hour), and the smell of Ivory soap on the skin of my first girlfriend (she was 15, I was 17). Jean-Baptiste is an 18thcentury Parisian born with a transcendent sense of smell. For him, communication and the search for Life’s meaning are a journey through the universe of scent. As he grows up and recognizes his ‘gift’ he becomes obsessive not about creating new perfume scents, but about preserving the scent of everything so that the soul of them, their scent, survives their death. This leads him to the serial murder of several women, not to sexually abuse them, but to render their scent out of their bodies. It’s kind of gruesome.
Remember or, if you don’t already know then consider the reek of the pre-modern world. Think of one word - dung - and I invite anyone who thinks that the past was better than the present to think of this as well: soap and a dentist. Even kings, princes and palaces reeked. Cities were over-crowded. What sewerage there was was inadequate. Death, disease and filth were the norm and life for the common man was mean, short and cruel. Tom Tykwer effectively shows us a more squalid Paristhan you are apt to see in, for example, Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. In pre-modern times the perfumer was an important position in society, just as the rat catcher was. These days we live, or try to livesuch antiseptic lives that we shield ourselves from and then forget what birth and death, sweat and bad breath are really like. Widespread, regular bathing is a definitively modern custom. The scents created to mask the unwashed human odors of pre-modern Europemade social life more tolerable.