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The Perfumier film review: The sluggish crime thriller smells of boredom

A half-baked plot and unconvincing main characters fail to deliver interesting material derived from the world of literature

The language is German along with English audio and subtitling options

A police officer desperate to restore their sense of smell decides to seek the help of a mysterious perfume maker whose quest to make the perfect scent could take him to all extremes. The film by writer-director Nils Willbrandt’s German thriller Der Parfumeur, which is titled Der Parfumeur in the original language has its inspiration from Patrick Suskind’s classic book of fantasy, Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer which has seen numerous adaptations on small and big screens including Tom Tykwer’s psychological thriller with the same title, as well as the streaming series Perfume which stars Friederike Becht.

Co-writer Willbrandt Kim Zimmermann has drawn a more direct influence from the series’ 2018 season as opposed to Suskind’s book. Since The Perfumier tells almost the exact story in 96 mins that the show did but with far more nuanced stories over the course of six episodes, it’s hard to say whether the film is needed or not, and more most importantly, why was it released at the exact OTT platform that the series is currently available in India.

The difficulty for filmmakers adapting a novel is often in determining the amount of the tone and style necessary to keep for screen use and how much it is necessary to change the tone in order to make a novel that will work in the visual medium. Suskind’s novel was personal in its style and had psychological undercurrents that defined the characters as well as suspense drama. It would have been difficult to reproduce exactly the same way on film. The Perfume series utilized its lengthy runtime that spans episodes to enthrallingly investigate the idea of the story but the Perfumier is not as impressive since it features a weak plot and unconvincing characters in its time. The film is unable to replicate the captivating dark vibes of the original story and is unable to reconcile the suspense and the raw emotion that fueled the novel.

The Perfumier

Zimmermann and Willbrandt are also attempting to add some zing by viewing the story that is filmed in the police officer who is the protagonist rather than the perfumier’s view of the antagonist. This idea is a hit because it strips the story of its spooky edge that lies in unravelling the mind of an infamous criminal. Since the screenwriters are focusing too heavily on the female police officer who appears in the film as Sunny the perfumier is left out in the dark.

A serial murderer is in the hunt and Sunny (Emilia Schul) is on the hunt to solve the case even though she’s not complaining about her anosmia which is so severe that she is able to drink large glasses of Schnapps packed with sugar with strawberries, tangerine, and strawberries in one gulp, without noticing any sensation. Sunny’s romance isn’t exactly happy also. She’s engaged to her coworker Juro (Robert Finster) He is a husband with two children. Most likely because the original story is well-known and the screenplay doesn’t waste too much time in explaining the identity of the murderer however, this is not the purpose of the tale. The suspect is a young perfumer known as Dorian (Ludwig Simon) and the murders stem from his desire in sourcing raw materials for an ideal scent. Sunny is attracted to Dorian’s dark realm after she is able to see his amazing ability. She realizes that Dorian could be her sole chance to regain her sense of smell.

The film begins with an intriguing premise, but then the film loses its grip on attention because of the slow narrative. Lack of urgency can be a major issue since it implies that you begin to understand the major aspects of the plot twists ahead of when they are actually revealed. Sunny gets pregnant at one moment, for example, and the subsequent change in events isn’t unexpected. The slow pace can also impact attempts to create an emotional arc in the narrative because boredom thwarts any attempt to convey feelings of sensitivity. Sunny’s remark about the smell of a baby as a method of communication through chemical signals with her mother is intended to bring you closer to her sorrow over not being able to be with the baby when it’s born. However, the uninteresting dialogues and execution leave you feeling unsatisfied.

Willbrandt as well as Zimmermann have in actual fact, overdone their usage of soliloquies. In the film Sunny appears to be in first-person voiceover mode, scribbling out specifics about her mental state and her observations of the world most of the time talking to the unborn baby. It was perhaps a way to convey the introspective nature that the story. The sporadic narrations, however, serve only to hinder the flow of the plot that is necessary to keep the interest of the audience.

The Perfumier is intended to be also a symbol of love because Sunny is always looking for an identity to alleviate her solitude. We discover that she was neglected in her childhood, the psychological effect of which is the reason for the loss of her sense of smell. In some way, she secretly blames her sensory deficit for the failures she has experienced in her relationship. Dorian also is looking for the true essence of love since she believes that love at its purest is the only element that can create the ideal smell. The expression of emotions displayed by the characters could have added an element of drama however the script fails to produce an emotional moment with these.

The story is essentially fantasy and has something magical in it. Dorian speaks of ammonia, cedar, the blood of ox, and thyme as essential ingredients in the creation of the scent of his dreams. He is able to tell which stage of pregnancy Sunny is in, and speaks of the six most basic scents found that exist in the world, and how the various smells can be described as a combination of these. However, the direction of Willbrandt misses out on bringing to life this enchanting element of the tale. The mood is more somber after the halfway point, however, the story is unable to get rid of the staleness. There isn’t any negative effect of a slow burn when you’re dull, and such execution is only affecting the characterization. The result is that almost every actor is bored of everything that happens.

“Smells are feelings, memories,” Dorian states to Sunny that her senses of olfaction are unable to feel anything. The film can have that kind of impact on your senses. It makes you feel nothing.

Rating: * * (two stars)

Vinayak Chakravorty works as a columnist, critic, and film journalist, located in Delhi NCR.

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