“Perfume, The Story of a Murderer”

I haven’t done a movie review in quite some time. Perhaps it’s because most movies out there are merely exercises in didactic over exertion and those don’t hold any fascination for me. The best films are those that don’t hit you over the head with any message at all, but respects the audience enough to make it subtle AND, (and here’s the key word here) entertaining. Those who make films (and I would include all artists such as novelists, song writers, etc.) seem to fall into two camps; those who make it for the sheer artistry and storytelling and those who make them to teach us all a lesson. I much prefer the former category.

Last night I received Perfume, The Story of a Murderer in the mail from Netflix. I had never heard of this movie, based on the 1986 German novel Das Parfum and never saw it advertised and it’s been out since 2006. I am always fascinated about why movies do not make a larger dent in the public consciousness when they come out but just because I didn’t notice it doesn’t mean it wasn’t released widely. I am always annoyed with the movie industry and around Oscar time I am particularly peeved by the blatant politicization of movies every year. The movies released in November and December are always nominated for Oscars and all the movies that come previous to that are always overlooked. It’s a perfect setup that never varies. This is why I never watch nor do I have much respect for the Academy Awards any longer. Members of the Academy ceased to be relevant a long time ago, except perhaps as a mirror held up to their own faces. But I digress.

perfumeFirst, the movie is narrated wonderfully by actor John Hurt and this sets the tone for the entire film. It reminded me of the frame in Big Fish or the television show Pushing Daisies yet far darker and much less witty in intent. The main character of this movie is Jean Baptiste Grenouille who begins life as a poor abandoned infant in the dirtiest, most despicable part of France and whose remarkable sense of smell defines his entire life. The problem? He has no scent of his own. His main desire in life is to collect the essences of all odors, including the impossible essences of glass and copper, and apprentices himself to a perfumer  (a most brilliant Dustin Hoffman) who knows the logistics of distilling and mixing scents but has no talent for creating perfumes that sell. He makes the mistake of telling Grenouille an Egyptian tale of the 13 essences which make up the greatest perfume in the world. Now Grenouille is bent on finding this secret formula. To say Grenouille is an aberrant personality is slightly an understatement but you do have some sympathy for the boy. He’s had the hardest of lives imaginable. And something, somewhere went even more horribly wrong in the formation of his conscience. His descent into murderous ways is almost innocent. He wants others to love him as he sees people do with each other every day.  He has no sense of boundaries. He has no concept that what he is doing may be wrong. All he wants is to distill the odors of young women because he finds it the most irresistible and life-giving smell in his world. And, above all, he wants love. He just chooses the most anti-social way of finding the “essence” of love that he can; murder. He literally harvests the scents of women. In his quest he comes across the one girl that will complete his collection of essences and he is bent on getting her, despite the efforts of her father (Alan Rickman)  to hide her.

Ben Whishaw is perfect as the  tortured soul yet seemingly serene soul, Grenouille. The film is compelling in its portrayal of Grenouille’s existential despair in the face of being overlooked simply for being born and being scentless. Catholics will be offended by the portrayal of the French bishop’s caricaturish belief in the superstitions of the day and the movie’s semi-penultimate scene in which the town amasses to execute Grenouille but descends into a pheromone induced orgy instead is sure to insult many. But I am never prude enough to overlook the beauty and skill of the intent of the movie because of the content of some scenes. Do they serve a purpose? Yes, they do. It is enough.  This movie reminds me of Chocolat a tad bit although much harsher in tone and content. But the trope is the common one of someone coming to town and altering the perception of it’s residents and the town religionists forever. This film is more about religion in the face of a presence that cannot be precisely described as evil because it’s motives are the purest. Grenouille is completely unaware of his action’s wrongness. Wrapping your mind around that one and the implications of it should keep you busy after viewing. The movie is dark and gritty in parts but exquisitely filmed and beautifully rendered. We are plunged from darkness to light in equal measures not only in landscape but in Grenouille’s life. It is sad and beautiful all at once in Grenouille’s quest to be noticed, loved, and desired. And the final scene is a moment of magical realism that will leave you pondering for quite some time.

I would recommend it but don’t watch it if you dislike the dark and the gritty mixed with blood or if you dislike mocking of religion. I just happen to like all of the above especially if a thoughtful message is cleverly disguised in an artful piece of work.


Melancholy Baby

I’ve been particularly touchy and pensive lately. Nothing interests me but reading books, watching television, or playing Bookworm. Well, other things have interested me, but that only takes 10 minutes max and even my husband is getting tired of it! 🙂 I’ve finished the latest Stephen King novel. Ho-Hum. The only thing of interest is that I started the first Dresden Files novel by Jim Butcher called Storm Front. Now that’s gotten interesting! I foresee long nights ahead reading his novels. (clapping) Still, I’m feeling pretty underestimated at work and pretty disgusted at our political system and media. So what else is new? Rather than rant on and on about the latest bullshit coming out of election candidates or the latest “I hate America” crap we see constantly, I’ve turned them all off for the time being. And people wonder why we watch TV shows too much. DUH!

As I’ve said before, I work at a large (not huge) church. It’s no mega-church or anything but some prominent (i.e. rich) people go there. So as Administrative Assistant to a few pastors, I get paid a decent wage for what I do. Hell, if you worked for the state (the largest employer here) I wouldn’t be making as much and the atmosphere would be even worse. So why bitch about it? Because I feel dry on the vine, underestimated, and my self esteem is withering away. In academia, it’s pretty much standard that you will be called brilliant every time you submit a question, let alone a paper of some length. It’s pretty heady to work in a field where you can toss around ideas and hob-nob with professors. I miss writing, researching, and presenting papers at conferences. Yet, I couldn’t stand the politics and the lack of balance found there. Despite what people think, academia is pretty narrow in their political beliefs.

Where I work now, I have just as a high if not higher educational degree as anyone here but the head pastor (he has a doctorate) and it pretty much means nothing to anyone. Is it supposed to? Maybe. At least that’s what bill of goods we are sold when we sign on to get one. But I went mainly for the research and reading part of it, not the end product. At any rate, it’s from the pastor that I’m constantly running across problems. He’s a 70s Princeton Theological Seminary graduate whose wife typed all of his papers while in school and whose assistant (me) now does. He’s not good with computers and doesn’t know how to find things on the Internet. Simple stuff for me seems unreachable to him. Yet, he is a perfectionist who has to have EVERYTHING a certain way and after it’s been modified twenty times, there is still always something wrong with it which he has to tell me about even after it’s too late to fix it. Every year, my review is the same. I meet or exceed all expectations and he has no problem with any of my “work.” What’s also true every year is that he never says I’ve done a good job unless I find some tidbit on the Internet that he thinks is “unfindable.” My co-workers have the same attitude. For them, I’m nothing special. They might hate it that they’d have to do my job if I left, but I am not under the delusion that I can’t be replaced. ANYONE can be replaced pretty easily.

I’ve looked for other jobs, but there isn’t much out there right now. I’ve long been out of the academic world and trying to get back in isn’t quite so easy. Soon the contacts dry up and the networking needs reworked, but after a certain time, you’re forgotten. I suppose I’m wondering if perhaps I’ve missed my shot. Sure, I can stay here until I retire. It’s an easy job with an easy-going work environment. All I have to do is mindlessly go through the church cycle year after year for the next 18 years. Sure, I don’t hate my job. Sure, I have some lively conversations at work. But, lately, I’ve just been feeling blah. I don’t write anything interesting anymore and can’t drum up the energy to blog. I have nothing to say that isn’t a rant against something and, I suppose, like all women approaching 50, feel pretty much useless and past my expiration date. So, do I keep looking for another job or stay and count my blessings? Any cure for the doldrums out there?