Tom Tykwer

Rachel Hurd-Wood as the vision of olfactory bliss in Perfume (2006)

Rachel Hurd-Wood as the vision of olfactory bliss in Perfume (2006)

  • Born: 1965
  • Rank: 77
  • Score: 526.20
  • Feature Films: 7
  • Best: The Princess and the Warrior
  • Worst: Winter Sleepers

Films (in rank order):

  1. The Princess and the Warrior – 2000
  2. Run Lola Run – 1998
  3. Heaven – 2002
  4. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – 2006
  5. Winter Sleepers – 1997

(have not been able to see Deadly Maria and have not yet seen The International)

Tom Tykwer burst on to the international scene with a bang when Run Lola Run was released. Never mind that he had already released two feature length films (Winter Sleepers may be the weakest of his films, but it is still a ***.5 film). When The Princess and the Warrior, which re-united him with Lola star Franka Potente, came out, he became one of the most talked about directors around. And then for some reason people stopped talking about him. He made Heaven, from a Kieslowski script, then took four years to make Perfume, the novel that everyone said could never be filmed. Perfume barely got noticed in the states and in spite of brilliant costumes, makeup and art direction didn’t get a single Oscar nomination. He followed that with one of the best stories in the ensemble Paris Je T’Aime and then earlier this year released The International.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – #19 film of 2006

I have seen this film twice now, once when it was first released on video and again a few months ago after reading the novel, and I found it just as interesting and disturbing each time. I could understand even before I read the novel how hard it would be to make a movie so based on the sense of smell. But after reading the novel, I saw that the key to making this a great film was two things.

The first thing was the direction. It’s clear from the start that Tykwer has a vision for how the film should move and how the characters should react to each other to make us feel like the sense of smell is coming alive even though we can’t smell a thing. He paces the film properly, moves us closer when he should, draws back when he must, makes us feel the sense of smell moving over great distances.

The second key to the film is casting. The film is cast perfectly. The first was the discovery of Ben Whishaw to play the young murderer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a purposeful performance of such a single minded sociopath. But it doesn’t end with Whishaw. Dustin Hoffman plays every note perfectly as the failing perfumer, John Hurt knows exactly how to make the voiceover work (how is it that foreign directors are so much better with voiceovers?) and of course, the casting of Rachel Hurd-Wood, who just a few years before had seemed so perfectly cast as an awkward Wendy Darling could be the absolute vision of the bliss that our young murderer is seeking.

Perfume is certainly not a film for everyone (like my mother for instance), but it is a great film and like the novel before it, ends where it should. Back in Paris. Surrounded by the city of smells.