Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Karoline Herfurth and Ben Whishaw in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer


Having wandered off up arthouse avenue in recent years, with The Princess and the Warrior and Heaven, director Tom Tykwer delivers his most accessible film since Run Lola Run. It’s an adaptation of Patrick Süskind’s runaway best-seller about an 18th century peasant with an incredible olfactory talent and the trouble that that gets him into. The feted Ben Whishaw gives it plenty of Norman Wisdom/Lee Evans gaucheness in the lead, as the lad whose almost Asperger’s talent for one single thing, and a commensurate lack of social skills, drives him on a giddy flight to the dark side. And the supporting cast is notable, sumptuous even. Dustin Hoffman does an entirely inappropriate panto act as the perfumer who’s lost his spark, until Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Whishaw) comes into his life, while Alan Rickman adds some theatrical bottom as the number one man on Grenouille’s tail, the father of one of his victims. Because where Grenouille’s nose takes him is towards murder, as he tries to produce a scent that can catch the essence of truth, beauty and life itself by killing attractive young women and then macerating them in animal fat – essence de femme morte. If that sounds like a tall order and one doomed to failure, the film has a similar ambition and outcome, aiming to get Susskind’s authorial voice and Grenouille’s first person point of view onto the screen at the same time (John Hurt doing his John Hurt thing in voiceover). Tykwer lavishes a large proportion of his decent budget getting the stink and filth of the 18th century onto the screen, and agonises over his compositions, whether they are of gorgeous women such as Rachel Hurd-Wood or Karoline Herfurth (her vivid red hair alone makes the film worth a look) or seething masses of maggots and other signifiers of decay. But no amount of set-dressing can hide the fact that the book has died on the way to the screen. Ironically the film is simply too literal, and without Süskind’s authorial voice teasing us this way and that, it’s hard to dispel the nagging feeling that what we’re watching is the Tooth Fairy strand from Silence of the Lambs rendered in the style of an upmarket continental lager advertisement. As for the blackly comic turn Tykwer takes at the end, it’s a throws-hands-in-the-air get-out for a film that looks like it had no idea how to end.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – Watch It at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2006




Run Lola Run

Franka Potente in Run Lola Run


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



9 November



Schicksaltag, Germany

In Germany 9 November has in recent years become known as Schicksaltag (the Fateful Day), a day which has been on five separate occasions the turning point for the country. The string of seeming coincidences was first noted after the Second World War but Schicksaltag as a concept really picked up momentum after 1989. In 1848, with the execution of poet and democrat Robert Blum on this day, the 1848 Revolutions were seen to come to an abortive end. In 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II was deposed as head of state, bringing to an end the notion of a system of monarchy in Germany. In 1923 the Beer Hall Putsch, which had begun the evening before, saw Hitler march into Munich with 2,000 men and attempt to seize power. He failed, but he would be back. 9 November 1938 has gone down in infamy as Kristallnacht, when synagogues and Jewish properties throughout Germany were looted and burned and more than 1,300 Jews killed. And in 1989, 9 November saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the reunification of the country. Because of the last event, it had been proposed initially that 9 November should be German Unity Day. But because of the other associations with the day, Kristallnacht in particular, the 3 October was chosen instead (the date of formal reunification).



Run Lola Run (1998, dir: Tom Tykwer)

It’s just Lola Runs (Lola rennt) in German and the equally simple high concept powering this landmark German film is a cracker – Lola (Franka Potente) has 20 minutes to raise a mountain of cash, otherwise her boyfriend will be killed by the gangster he owes it to. She tries; she fails. Then director Tom Tykwer makes her do it again, and again, Groundhog Day style, while the pounding soundtrack, whipcrack camera and editing, plus the smorgasbord of visual styles add to the feeling of oppressive will she/won’t she. Beautifully made and utterly stylish Run Lola Run is a landmark because of what it symbolises – Germany’s arrival at a place where France (largely thanks to Luc Besson) had arrived a few years before. Gone was the need to make every film socially relevant – arthouse, if you will. In came a love for genre, an understanding that entertainment is also part of the weft of life and nothing to be ashamed of, and a decision to take on Hollywood at its own game. Tykwer was a new talent then with a gift for an arresting image. Since then he has never managed quite to achieve what Run Lola Run suggested he would, though there’s no shame in having directed The Princess and the Warrior, Heaven, Perfume and Cloud Atlas (with the Wachowskis). Run Lola Run also gave us Franka Potente, a ballsy modern heroine with bright red hair and a tattoo – just right for the new grrrl era. This was Germany’s biggest film of 1998. Since then we’ve had Downfall and The Lives of Others, Hell, Goodbye Lenin, The Counterfeiters and The Edukators – all arthouse to a certain degree, but all also infused with the lessons that Run Lola Run taught them. If you’re not entertaining people it doesn’t matter what you’re saying, because they won’t be watching. It’s OK to court popularity.



Why Watch?


  • The arrival of Tykwer, a great director
  • A pounding soundtrack – also largely by Tykwer
  • One of the best “female heroine” films of recent decades
  • Average shot length of 2.7 seconds – busy


© Steve Morrissey 2013



Run Lola Run – at Amazon