Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Rated 3.0

Director Tom Tykwer, with co-writers Andrew Birkin and Bernd Eichinger, adapts Patrick Süskind’s 1985 bestseller. Opinions on the exact whereabouts of its “Oh, come on” threshold will differ, but most viewers should agree that Perfume does cross a line somewhere. So it should, though, given how candidly this movie appraises the horror and glory of the creative process. Set in 18th century France, it concerns a poorly socialized but olfactorily gifted young lad (Ben Whishaw, terrific) who becomes obsessed with women’s “essences”—not in a good way—and with concocting from them the world’s most powerful perfume. Well, as pulp-leavened pretension goes, it’s at least more honest than recent Cronenberg; as John Hurt-narrated misogyny, less one-note than recent von Trier. Perfume begins with vigor and humor but steadily declines, thus replicating the experience of assiduously sniffing a peculiar fragrance in order to identify it, only then to lose it altogether and become uncomfortably light-headed. And speaking of “Oh, come on,” when did Dustin Hoffman, embarrassing here as a mentor perfumer, become a weak link?