When I heard that Patrick Suskind’s novel Perfume had been adapted into a movie, my first thought was, How will they translate all those smells into visual terms? (Short of providing the viewers with pellets of scentâ€””offal”, “chamber pots”, “rotting teeth”, etcâ€”that they should break open at specific parts of the movie.) Perfume is about a man in 18th century France â€”an incredibly stinky period, Suskind writesâ€”who is born with an amazing sense of smell but has no smell of his own, so he goes about creating one. How do you put that in a movie? My second thought was, Is Adrien Brody in it? Clearly the lead would have to act with his nose, express desire, lust, and pure evil with his nose, and Adrien is not only a great actor, he also has a prodigious schnozz. He’s so good that for much of The Pianist he doesn’t even have to speak, and he carries the movie.
The answer to my second question is No, Adrien’s not in it, and the answer to the first is, They didn’t. Instead of creating visual equivalents for olfactory sensations, the director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola, Run) uses a voice-over narrator (John Hurt, which puts me in mind of the Jim Henson TV series The Storyteller, a production superior to this). I am not against voice-overs, but in this case it’s a cop-out, a gyp, and just plain lazy. If I wanted the book read to me I’d get the mp3. If it is impossible (though I don’t believe it) to translate smells into cinematic terms, why bother to film Perfume?
Can’t wait to see Children of Men, Alfonso Cuaron’s adaptation of the PD James novel, and Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s fairy tale set in Spain under Franco. On the big screen, please. I tried to watch a bootleg of The Illusionist, and a man was speaking Russian over all the dialogue.