Involving, yet difficult to bear at times, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer has a scent of bravura craftsmanship, emanating from the realm of populism.
Adapted from the best seller by Patrick Suskind by three scenarists, one of which is director Tom Tykwer (Heaven and Run Lola Run), the uniquely talented Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (British actor Ben Whishaw) is carefully and disturbingly examined.
Grenouille has the Dickensian life spending childhood in a vapid orphanage in Paris in the 1740's. His strife is masked by a remarkable, if overdeveloped olfactory ability.
Trying desperately to make that elusive human connection through the aroma of early womanhood, the elaborate science of manufacturing perfume leads him on a quest.
Jean-Baptiste will gain employment with an unsuccessful perfumer (Dustin Hoffman of Finding Neverland) and turn around a faltering enterprise. The village of Grasse is where young Grenouille will become an apprentice as he passionately and recklessly kindles a project of synthesizing a potent fragrance into something mordant and brutal.
The genius of this artistry may strike some as a period piece of a great Martin Scorsese film (not The Age of Innocence) with John Hurt's post-modern voice-over seeming like a very dark fairy tale.
Whishaw, a respected stage actor from London's Old Vic, is able to make one contemplate his burden and desire to challenge his humanity looking naive as though feeling an overwhelming sense to conspire as fate in a classical way.
The screenplay has Grenouille eyeing the virginal Laure (Rachel Hurd-Wood of 2003's appealing Peter Pan) with an intensely doting father (Alan Rickman of the Harry Potter films).
The extremely limited social mobility of our yearning, callous protagonist is evident as Whishaw is supported quite admirably in elemental, if effective turns by Hoffman, Rickman and a hauntingly sensuous Karoline Herfurth.
Tykwer projects the story around this hard to film sense with vivid originality nicely contrasting the lush lavenders of Grasse with the grime of Paris. The dark wit avoids typical denouement as the high point is bizarre and gruesome with a mood that may entice detachment as a keen sociopath has the smell and touch of Frankenstein.