'Perfume: The Story of a Murderer' is a faithful book adaptation which is both a good and a bad thing. For people who have read the book, written by Patrick Süskind, and liked it this is a film they are quite likely to like as well. They think of a passage from the book and how it could look, and director Tom Tykwer and his crew have made it look probably close to their imagination. The visuals, especially in the second half of the film truly are extraordinary. But film is another medium than books and in my opinion some minor changes would have helped the film.
One important thing is its pacing. If you know nothing about the story there is a good chance you will find the middle part quite dull and the final act going too fast. Let's start at the beginning. We meet Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, being born on the fish market in Paris in the 18th century. The boy, who has no scent of his own, has a sense of smell that could lead him anywhere in the dark. To collect different scents becomes an obsession until, after I have skipped quite a bit from the story, as an adolescent (played by Ben Whishaw) he smells a woman in the way he has never smelled it. For the first time he sees, or actually smells, beauty. Sort of by accident he kills the woman and then tries to capture the scent, in which he fails to do so. This changes a couple of things.
First of all he decides he wants to be a perfumer and he chooses Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) as his teacher. He wants to be this so he can learn how to keep the essence of a scent. All this leads him to Grasse, the perfume capital of the world where he learns a technique which he is about to try on different women. Since Jean-Baptiste has no feeling whatsoever, killing the woman first seems most easy. He needs thirteen samples to create his masterpiece and we learn quite early in the film that Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood) will be his final victim. She is the daughter of the powerful Antoine Richis (Alan Rickman).
How the story unfolds is for you to see, but to say it is interesting is an understatement. The ending feels oddly out of tone with the rest of the film, although it was done how it probably should have been. If Tykwer had chosen another approach he would have made a lot of readers upset. The screenplay part here might not please some, but read the novel to understand Tykwer's choices.
The feeling of watching some problems with translating things from text to images was always there. Especially the voice over, done superbly by John Hurt, emphasized this thought. I was often amazed, impressed by the visuals, the Whishaw-performance and most of all by Tykwer's brave attempt to make a film out of a book that was considered unfilmable. On the other hand I was never impressed by the film itself. Almost, most of all in the end, but I never really got there. Still, 'Perfume' is a unique film which deserves praise on a lot of levels.