As the Ultimate Frisbee Freak and the Bassist are on half term this week we thought we’d get in a bit of DVD watching while there was no homework to clutter up the evenings. Last night it was Perfume, based on the book of the same name by Patrick Susskind.
Now, I’ll own up straight away and say I’ve never read the novel so I wasn’t sitting there tutting over what had been lost in the transition between book and film. But a film about a man whose overwhelmingly primary sense is smell? Brave to say the least.
Apparently it was felt my many directors to be unfilmable. But, when you think about it, why should words on the page be any more successful in conveying smell than the visual images attached to those smells? Does the phrase ‘rotting fish entrails’ – a feature right at the beginning of the film – conjour up the appropriate smell any more vividly than a highly-coloured shot of the same subject matter? In either case we’re still having to imagine the smell.
But perhaps the ‘unfilmable’ tag referred more to the fact that the central character, Jean Baptiste Grenouille, hardly speaks throughout the film. He is in virtually every frame and yet he has maybe a hundred words to say in the whole one hundred and thirty two minute film.
It just goes to show that having lots of lines isn’t everything because Ben Whishaw, the actor who plays Grenouille is just amazing. Without words, he manages to convey a horribly immediate sense of who this sociopathic orphan killer is and how he relates to the world and people in it. And a very strange and smelly kind of relating it is too.
I gather that Mr Whishaw (that's him on the left doing stuff with essences) was something of a smash hit in Hamlet at the Old Vic not long after he had graduated from RADA. On the basis of his performance as the quasi-autistic, olfactory savant Grenouille I can only imagine that he is going to be a star in all acting media.
Whether you’ve read the book or not, whether you like magic realism or not (I don’t), whether you like Dustin Hoffman or not (I do, he’s in it and very good he is too) you really should see Perfume just to see Ben Whishaw’s performance.
Yes, it’s that good. By the way, don't be squeamish (I nearly switched off ten minutes before the end in fear of brutality until the UFF pointed out that it was only a 15 and therefore unlikely to involve horrible violence) the end is not what you expect from the beginning!!