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The world of perfumery is not one you would automatically associate with murder, but this is a film as contradictory as the title suggests. It is quite arty in nature, but has enough scope and acting clout (including Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman) to bring it a much wider audience.

Perfume may be about murder yet is sensuously shot and almost gentle in its tone, so much so that the strong subject matter is diluted.

Directed by German filmmaker Tom Tykwer, this is an intense thriller, which nevertheless emerges as a thing of beauty and grace. Newcomer Ben Whishaw is beguilingly good as Jean-Baptiste, an orphan in 18th century Paris, whose first experience of the world is a stinking fish market.

Born with a highly-developed sense of smell, he escapes from the unpleasant surroundings he finds himself in - an awful orphanage and then a tough tannery - by trying to log in his memory as many different smells as he possibly can.

Jean-Baptiste can soon distinguish between millions of them, but it's when he gets a teasing whiff of the intoxicating scents that make up perfumes that he becomes truly excited. Desperate to find out more about this wondrous world, he eventually convinces the once-proud perfumer Baldini (Hoffman) into giving him a job.

Tired old Baldini needs some new inspiration to reclaim his former glory as a celebrated perfumer and Jean-Baptiste provides that vital spark.

Together they resurrect Baldini's faltering business, but it isn't long before Jean-Baptiste is frustrated and feels he needs to develop his talent even more. He wants to create the most exquisite scent in the world and believes that in order to succeed he needs to capture the fragrance given off by young women's hair and skin.

Jean-Baptiste then sets about murdering the most beautiful women in the city and in turn captures the attention of Richis (Rickman), an influential man who is convinced his daughter (Rachel Hurd-Wood) will be next on Jean-Baptiste's list.

Whishaw has a difficult job on his young hands as he practically carries the film, yet for a large part of it doesn't really speak. A lot of his acting is done just through facial expressions, yet he manages to look innocent, enraged and threatening from one scene to the next. He is an enchanting enigma that just begs to be seen.

Even though he has the hardest job of the celebrated cast, each actor brings something unique to the piece, and Tykwer ensures his direction is as taut as it is understated.

Interjected throughout the subtle story is a dark humour that is effective as a device to lighten the macabre mood of the piece. The DVD features a making of documentary and photo gallery.


OLD MASTER: Dustin Hoffman as Giuseppe Baldin; MURDER IN MIND: Ben Wisham and Rachel Hurd-Wood
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 27, 2007
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