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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer 

Mark Palermo gets sniffy about it.

Plenty of high-profile movies are about the tormented lives of artists. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer takes it up a notch: It's also a legitimate artwork.

Thrown away at birth, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille's childhood as an unloved ghetto urchin was saved by his one gift. Born with the best sense of smell in Paris, he finds beauty in olfactory sensations. In adapting the Patrick Suskind novel, director Tom Tykwer loses his footing at the end—descending into self-conscious artsiness where he previously ran on inspiration—yet his images take on a sensory magnitude. The long passages without dialogue speak loudest. Eighteenth century France has a lavish purity reminiscent of Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, but Perfume is unique in its disturbances.

Grenouille's dream of preserving aromas becomes the ultimate art crime. Learning the ropes with a renowned parfumier (Dustin Hoffman), Grenouille's best perfumes still don't match the scent of Paris' most beautiful women. Believing his art is worth killing for, his perfume is a way to capture the essence of love he can't have, the girls he can never be with. Suskind and Tykwer use this abstract narrative to cut to the ugliness and passion in monomania.

Perfume has been in development for a while. No recent book-to-movie translation (not Harry Potter; not Little Children) flourishes this well in the film medium. Tykwer lets go of the flashiness of his Run Lola Run and The Princess and the Warrior, finding a deep cinematic articulation. He uses image and sound to suggest smell. The environments are perceived through Grenouille's romantic subjectivity. "What kind of human are you?" he's asked. Perfume finds moral chaos when there's no distinction between the grotesque and the divine.

Bridge to Teribithia

In strict genre terms, nothing fantastic occurs in Bridge to Teribithia outside the characters' minds. It has crossover as more than kids' fare because it's smart about childhood. This identification is at the centre of most good children's movies, and may have helped the Katherine Paterson novel that inspired it become popular in grade-school curriculums. The movie is more observational than plot-driven—a tale of outsider friends who find refuge in a shared dream. When tomgirl Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) moves to town she becomes the only kid who doesn't judge Jesse (Josh Hutcherson) for getting on the school bus after diving in a puddle. Both artistically minded, the kids imagine a fantasy kingdom in the woods near their homes.

Bridge to Terabithia, directed by Gabor Csupo, captures the feeling of a time when Saturday afternoons held the promise of unknown adventures. It brings, too, the expected theme of young people discovering the world, every kid's struggle for dignity. The film misfires in early scenes where the school bullies are missing authenticity, and Csupo's direction lacks the distinction and wonder to keep up. The green-screen effect as his camera tracks Jesse and Leslie running through the woods at superhuman speed is cheesy rather than magical. It's when the film slows down that it shines brightest.

Enduring, or to be endured? Write: palermo@thecoast.ca

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