Let’s get the obvious out of the way upfront. This movie is gorgeous. Even when what’s on the screen is dirt and filth (like much of the beginning, set in the poorest areas of a French fishing village), it’s beautifully lit, shot, and framed. The music, too, is a high point, bringing an epic feel to what is actually a fairly repugnant story. I should expect nothing less from Tom Tykwer, whose films are consistently full of beauty and use music very well, from this classic-esque score to the pumping techno of Run Lola Run.

The story involves Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a child abandoned at birth by his mother but survived the orphanage despite being an outcast for his weird superpowered smell. An encounter with a beautiful redhead led Grenouille to make it his life’s mission to capture and preserve women’s scent, which he finally learns to do through a process that involves…killing them.


There are a lot of intriguing ideas here (it’s based on a novel by Patrick Süskind), and the concept in general didn’t offend me, as I feared it might. Grenouille is a psychopath, but one with an unusual and interesting focus. I really liked a lot of aspects of the film, but I couldn’t quite love it. The last third of the story just went a little too far for me, and didn’t give me enough preparation or enough of a connection to Grenouille to go along with it.

Let me clarify – one thing the film did very well was find a way to visually depict smells, which aren’t visual at all, but you FELT LIKE you were smelling the things Grenouille was. However, Grenouille is such an obsessive, single-minded figure that he comes off a little one-note – this isn’t Ben Whishaw’s fault, by the way, I thought he was very effective with what he was given, but he’s just a blank slate most of the time except for this need to recover a single olfactory experience.


As a whole, the film, especially the last half hour or so, just felt like a whole lot of false profundity – portentous without any real depth or point. I find this combination of very effective filmmaking with a story I ultimately found shallow and somewhat off-putting to be very difficult to rank. Depending on how it survives in my memory, it could move around quite a bit.

Stats and stuff…

2006, USA
directed by Tom Tykwer, written by Andrew Birkin, Bernd Eichinger, Tom Tykwer
starring Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Alan Rickman

I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Perfume: The Story of a Murderer entered my chart:

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer > Silk Stockings
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer < X2
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer < Village of the Damned
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer > Berbarian Sound Studio
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer > Splendor in the Grass
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer > Spider-Man 2
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer < Boy
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer > Stolen Kisses
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer < The Desert Song
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer > Lambchops
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer > Sneakers
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer > The Bad Intentions

Final #1434 out of 3721 (62%)

It is now my #3 Tom Tykwer film (#4 if you include Cloud Atlas), my #3 Ben Whishaw film (he’s not listed on Flickchart for Cloud Atlas), my #6 Dustin Hoffman film, my #9 Alan Rickman film, my #12 Serial Killer film, and my #29 film of 2006.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer was recommended by Nathan Chase, a friend and co-founder of Flickchart.com. Averaging together this #1434 ranking with my #988 ranking of his other film, Triangle, gives Nathan an average ranking of 1211.

A few more screenshots…