There are a few films out there that can provoke a non-visual sensory reaction. Films lean upon two senses primarily – sight and hearing – for obvious reasons. A film that tries to trigger any other sense can almost not do so without making it the basis for the entire film, or at least prevalent throughout, and it cannot do this without risking the failure of its most basic premise. Even under the pressure to force an unusual sensory reception of a primarily visual medium, there are some films that come out shining like diamonds.

Perfume (2006) wastes no time exposing the gritty rperfume-i.jpgealism of 18th century Paris. The story immediately focuses on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), a boy who is soon orphaned at the beginning of the film (his mother thinks Jean-Baptiste is stillborn, and throws him on the fish gut pile). It becomes evident that Jean-Baptiste has a quite abnormal sense of smell. He uses this ability to duck things that are thrown at him, identify ingredients, and experience the world through the funnel of over-reliance on his nose. When Jean-Baptiste is older and is no longer working slave labor for his orphange, he is sent on an errand within Paris. That night, he catches the sent of a beautiful woman. He ends up killing her accidentally. Though he can catch her scent for a short time after her death, it ultimately fades away. Thus begins Jean-Baptiste Grenouille’s quest to recreate her scent.

Perfume is a strange wonderful movie. It combines the implications of untrained talents with human impulses, as well as the heart-wrenching amorality one has to embody to achieve what would otherwise be unattainable. But, as I’ve hinted at before, it’s true dazzle is its audacity to suggest different scents so strongly that a viewer can smell with his eyes. It’s a weird experience, to be sure, but it makes the film unique and dynamic.

The smells in the film are depicted with vibrant colors and strong suggestions of mythicalperfume-ii.jpg proportion. This approach isn’t entirely successful, and I don’t know that it could ever expect to be. It is certainly ambitious, and at times totally overreaches its grasp. At the same time, the story is interesting and only somewhat predictable (the last few scenes were most certainly not expected – though this can be good or bad). The most poignant part of the movie was not its vibrancy or its dark humor (which there are sprinklings of), but its portrait of a man absorbed in the grief of losing the most precious, most beautiful, most powerful thing in the world to him. While the film definitely has its pitfalls in its pacing, it is one of the more captivating works of the last few years.