Photo: Jurgen Olczyk. The perfumer Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (BEN WHISHAW) enthralls the crowd in DreamWorks Pictures’ and Constantin Film’s dark metaphysical suspense drama, PERFUME-THE STORY OF A MURDERER. DreamWorks Pictures and Constantin Film present a Bernd Eichinger production, a Tom Tykwer film, a Constantin Film/VIP Medienfonds 4 production, in co-production with NEF Productions and Castelao Productions, “Perfume-The Story of a Murderer,” starring Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood and Dustin Hoffman, narrated by John Hurt. Directed by Tom Tykwer, the screenplay is by Andrew Birkin & Bernd Eichinger & Tom Tykwer, from the novel by Patrick Süskind. Produced by Bernd Eichinger; co-produced by Gigi Oeri, the film is a German-French-Spanish co-production. Copyright ©2006 by DreamWorks LLC and Constantin Film Produktion GmbH/VIP Medienfonds 4 GmbH & Co. KG/NEF Productions S.A./Castelao Productions S.A.. All Rights Reserved.
Patrick Süskind’s best-selling novel, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, has sold over 15 million copies worldwide, has been translated into 45 languages (even Latin) and continues to appear on “must read” lists in publications such as Oprah and In Style. The most successful German language novel since Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, the historical novel was acknowledged by Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain as his favorite book and the inspiration for the band’s 1993 song “Scentless Apprentice.”
“How could the story of an eccentric 18th-century murderer fascinate so many readers to such an extent?” asks director Tom Tykwer, whose critically acclaimed film “Run, Lola, Run” elevated the German filmmaker to worldwide prominence. “They are universal themes the desire for recognition, to be loved, to be seen, to be ‘somebody’ and the idea that there’s a genius hiding in everyone, and if it were unleashed, the world would be stunned! It’s a myth we all carry within ourselves.”
Rich with vivid details that conjure the historical sites and smells of Paris as well as the city of Grasse in Provence, the book’s popularity also stemmed from the strange and enigmatic character at the center of Suskind’s story Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. “So many people have read this book,” says Tykwer. “We had to find an actor that was not only suitable for us, but who could also fulfil the image of Grenouille conceived by readers who were already familiar with the character. And, at the same time, he had to appeal to a new generation of filmgoers who may not have read the novel. It became obvious that we needed a newcomer, a clean slate, so to speak. We were fortunate to find Ben Whishaw, an actor who is completely fresh and at the same time, rivetingly talented,” says Tykwer.
Twenty-four-year-old Whishaw, a graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, had won great acclaim for his performance as Hamlet in Trevor Nunn’s 2004 production at the Old Vic following in the rich lineage of Old Vic Hamlets like John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Alec Guinness and Derek Jacobi.
“The entire film depends on the actor playing Grenouille,” adds producer Bernd Eichinger. “We saw many actors but it was not until we found Ben Whishaw that we saw a young man who embodied both the innocent and the murderer. You know you have perfect casting when, after you’ve seen a movie, you cannot imagine anyone else in the role. That’s what we have with Ben.”
Whishaw, who had only appeared in a few small movie roles before he was cast as Grenouille, admits that he “had quite a few butterflies with Bernd for a while because I knew that PERFUME was one of his life’s goals and that he’d fought 20 years to make it.”
In fact, many prominent filmmakers had clamoured to win the motion picture rights to Süskind’s book when it was first published in 1985, and Eichinger was among them. A friend of Süskind’s and a fellow Munich resident, whose credits include “Downfall,” “The Name of the Rose,” “House of the Spirits” and “The NeverEnding Story,” he hoped he might have the inside track.
But Süskind, as reclusive as author J.D. Salinger, would not sell the rights to anyone. A novelist and playwright whose works include the novels The Pigeon and The Story of Mr. Sommer, the play “Double Bass,” the teleplays “Monaco Franze” and “Kir Royal,” he doesn’t grant interviews, accept awards or make public appearances. In fact, only a few public photographs of him exist.
Instead, what did evolve from all the attention around his book was “Rossini,” a humorous screenplay à clef co-written by Süskind. The story tells of the author of the No. 1 best seller (who has not been seen in public for years), the director who wants to film the adaptation, and the big-shot producer who wants to get the rights for himself. Eichinger’s company, Constantin Film, distributed the film in 1997.
Finally, fifteen years after his initial approach, Eichinger’s patience and determination paid off.
“I sensed that something had changed in Patrick’s attachment to the novel,” he says. “My enthusiasm for the story had not diminished. I still believed in the project, so I tried again and we came to an agreement.”
An accomplished screenwriter who wrote the screenplay for his Oscar®-nominated German film, “Downfall,” Eichinger began by writing a treatment and asked Andrew Birkin to help him bring his vision of “Perfume” to the screen. Birkin had been one of the writers on Eichinger’s “The Name of the Rose,” and was the writer-director of “Salt On Our Skin” and “The Cement Garden.”
When Tom Tykwer came on board - as a co-writer and director, the creative team was complete.
“Tom has a distinctly artistic and innovative vein, but he also has a very popular understanding of film,” says Eichinger. “Because of those two components the experimental and the popular he’s an ideal director for this film.”
“My aim from the outset was to make (a film) that was really modern in terms of film language but still remained true to its historical obligations, in the same way the novel’s modern narrative is never sacrificed to its historical accuracy,” says Tykwer.
As the trio began their collaboration on the script, they gained even greater admiration for Süskind’s rendering of his complex central character.
“I think the greatest challenge that we were facing in the writing process was how to make Grenouille work,” says Tykwer. “He’s a strange, introverted central character with an exceptional way of perceiving and experiencing the world.”
“Since Grenouille is a man of very few words, we didn’t have the luxury of giving him the usual self-revelatory dialogue that a normal character would have,” explains Eichinger. “He’s a perfectionist, obsessed with creating the ultimate love potion, so to speak. A fragrance, that when possessed, will bring love and adulation to its owner. Hinging a film on a character like Grenouille breaks every rule in the screenwriting textbook. He has no concept that he belongs to the human race. He is amoral. So it’s not a question of identifying with him, but, rather, of understanding his motives.”
Over the course of the next two years, the writing team continued to hone the screenplay. Adapting the celebrated novel to the language of film, they were committed to stay true to the book particularly the startling finale in which the townspeople who have gathered to witness Grenouille’s execution move from hate, to sympathy, to affection and finally to uninhibited devotion for the murderer. Intoxicated by his presence, they remove their clothes and erupt in one huge erotic embrace.
THE PERFECT CHEMISTRY
If perfume is measured by its concentration then film production is measured by its collaboration how hundreds of artists and craftspeople come together in the creative process. Integral to that chemistry are the actors who bring the story to life and “Perfume” landed two screen legends, two-time Oscar® winner Dustin Hoffman, who portrays the master perfumer Baldini and Alan Rickman, as merchant Antoine Richis, who will use extreme measures to protect his beautiful young daughter from a murderer who is at-large.
For a newcomer like Ben Whishaw, the opportunity to work with Hoffman and Rickman was nothing less than inspiring.
"It was incredible how Dustin made the atmosphere on the set so light and pleasurable,” says Whishaw. “He has such a joy in his approach, and so much laughter and fun, and he's almost irreverent about it. He just gets it out, all out and doesn't censor himself in any way, which I found really extraordinary to see”.
What Whishaw particularly enjoyed about working with fellow RADA graduate Alan Rickman who plays the cunning merchant from Grasse, was his "incredible voice." Rickman can act out a scene "very stringently but at the same time ethereally; he plays with great depth and you must always be aware with him that there are a lot of other things going on below his surface."
Whishaw says that his character, a perfumer, affected him in unexpected ways. “My sense of smell hasn’t become superhuman or anything, but I’ve definitely become more aware of the smells around me,” he says. “Certain scents bring back memories from that time of my life. For example, our clapper loader, Nicole, wore a particular perfume every day, and since she was the last person to step in front of me for each take, I would smell that perfume. The next time I smell this perfume, I'll be brought back to summer 2005.”
Hoffman and Whishaw had a week of rehearsal and a crash course in the art of perfume-making prior to their two-week shoot at Bavaria Studios in Munich. Their scenes were shot in sequence, allowing the actors to follow the natural progression of their characters’ relationship.
“With these two we had found the perfect constellation,” says the director, “On the one hand, the icon of the modern Hollywood movie and on the other the unknown talent who is about to break loose. The pairing fits nicely with the plot of the film.”
Even before shooting, Tykwer had another, historically established duet in mind the relationship between Salieri and Mozart in “Amadeus.” “The young Mozart, with his vivacious and feather-light artistic skill, drove the old master Salieri totally apoplectic,” says the director. “In ‘Perfume,’ too, an old master denigrates his younger student and quickly discovers that he has an absolute genius in front of him who is vastly his superior.”
Hoffman, who has only appeared in a handful of period films, says that he also saw the similarities to “Amadeus.” “The genius Mozart interacts with the ‘only very good’ musician Salieri,” says Hoffman. “Although Baldini knows how to make perfume, he lacks the natural talent that makes only very few people geniuses.”
Attracted to the opportunity to work with the director, Hoffman explains, “I liked Tykwer’s film ‘Run Lola Run’ a lot. After I saw it, I called him up. We became friends, but only by telephone. At one point I heard from him that he was going to adapt ‘Perfume’ and I remembered having read it 20 years earlier. I wanted to be involved.”
“Tom’s a little on the obsessed side,” Hoffman continues with a laugh. “He prepares himself for his work very precisely. Three or four years of preparatory work are no exception for him. At the same time, he has great respect for the opinions of his actors; he’s always open to new ideas.”
Tykwer’s admiration was mutual. "Dustin has this special aura in which irony and seriousness meet. He can get a wink out of drama and give weight to comedy, which means there is a constant air of ambiguity. Baldini is an extremely important character in PERFUME because he is the only serious counterpart to Grenouille, who otherwise goes through the film with hardly any interaction at all.
For the role of Antoine Richis, Tykwer felt he needed a suitable opponent for Grenouille. “Just as Dustin was my first choice for Baldini, Alan was also my first choice as Richis,” says the director. “We needed an actor to play not only a tender father, but also to be an absolutely serious rival for the brilliant killer,” he explains. “Even if one gets the idea that Grenouille is becoming more and more invincible in the second part of the film, Richis develops in such a way that you start to think: ‘Maybe he really can get Grenouille.’
“Rickman’s pure physical presence should not be underestimated,” Tykwer continues. “When he is sitting on a horse, you think: 'General, I’m ready to follow you anywhere!’"
Rickman had never read ‘Perfume’ as a novel. What was more important in his decision to accept the role was the theory that a film is the medium of the director’s and he wants to work with "really good" directors.
"I'm a great admirer of Tom's work,” says Rickman. “Although he is incredibly determined in his work, he is also the most charming, open and selfless person I know. So the atmosphere on the set was enjoyable from start to finish," he adds.
When Grenouille arrives in Grasse the town in which he will learn the art of “enfleurage” (the extraction of flowers’ precious essential oils), he becomes obsessed with Laura, Richis’ daughter, portrayed by sixteen-year old British actress Rachel Hurd-Wood.
“Grenouille’s obsession with Laura is all in his mind and from a distance,” says Whishaw. “He doesn’t know her or anything about her as a human being. All he knows is her smell; that’s all she is to him, an overwhelming smell. It’s disturbing the strangest kind of love affair, based on something totally wrong.”
Hurd-Wood first came to the attention of screen audiences as Wendy Darling in the 2003 film Peter Pan.
“Laura is like a butterfly; she's always trying to fly away and her father is always trying to pull her back,” she explains. “She’s wild, carefree, and vivacious. She is blissfully unaware that Grenouille could be targeting her.”
The young actress admits that she was honored to be involved with the adaptation of Süskind’s novel. “Patrick Süskind has managed to put so many layers into the narrative and maintain them throughout, despite the complexity of the content. Everybody gets something different out of it.”
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Director Tom Tykwer was at the helm of an enormous crew that included 67 principal actors, 520 technicians, more than 100 sets and a total of 5200 extras.
“It was a bit crazy at times, standing ankle-deep in fish entrails, giving instructions in four languages with nearly a thousand extras around me,” laughs Tykwer. “One simply has to acknowledge that everything depends on very well-planned logistics.”
Fortunately, he could rely on three creative collaborators who had worked with him successfully on previous films: cinematographer Frank Griebe, production designer Uli Hanisch, and costume designer Pierre-Yves Gayraud. Griebe, a multiple winner of the German Film Prize (for “Run Lola Run,” among others), has shot all of Tom Tykwer’s feature films. Hanisch, German Film Prize-winner in the category of production design for Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Das Experiment”, has set the scenic tone on many of Tykwer’s projects. And Gayraud designed the costumes for Tykwer’s award-winning short, “True,” which starred Natalie Portman.
A pre-production shoot began with a 3-day trip to Provence to film the lavender harvest while the fields were in full bloom. In July of 2005, principal photography commenced on the largest stage at Bavaria Studios in Munich. The 15-day shoot included the scenes between Grenouille, the apprentice, and master perfumer, Baldini as well as the enfleurage workshop of Mme. Arnulfi. The rest of the film, including the Paris fish market and the events in the "perfume city" of Grasse, were shot in Spain (Barcelona, Figueres and Girona).
“Grenouille moves from place to place the entire time," says Tykwer, describing the structure of the plot. "He goes from the orphanage to the tannery in Paris, then to his master, Baldini. Then he goes into the mountains, disappears in a cave, and finally migrates to Grasse, where the serial killing really starts. All the locations presented in the novel had to be invented in order to recreate the 18th century in detail.”
Despite its period setting, Tykwer was eager to give a very modern sensibility to the story. “We’ve made an atypical period film,” says the director. “From the outset, we’ve established the story in an intense reality that will immediately bridge the gap to an initially alien 18th century. We wanted to make a film that had maximum traction; the audience should concentrate on the story right from the start, without being distracted by the appeal of the background, impressive as it may be.”
Griebe, the cinematographer, notes, “I started the look (of the film) in a very bluish tone, with less color and then as Grenouille learns to smell, we see more colors… until it’s more warmer and there are blossoms and sweet smells. We were also shooting a lot of handheld camera, and we were very often close to our main characters sometimes a kind of documentary style.”
Of course, Tykwer and his team were determined to present the time as it was. “In the beginning, all our time was spent studying paintings, literature and scholarly works concerning 18th century France during the reign of Louis XV,” says Hanisch, the production designer. “The aim was to become familiar enough with this particular period to be able to use it with ease as a background for the film’s story-line.”
Tykwer says that the look of the film calls upon the artistic works by the old masters.
“Our film has a distinctly dark aesthetic to it and tells the story of a shadowy figure,” he says. “We oriented ourselves towards painters that specialized in darkness with few sources of light, such as Caravaggio, Joseph Wright, Rembrandt. The people of the time had only a candle to light their world. Outside that light source, their universe was totally black.”
In the summer of 2005, 350 crew members spent 29 days in Barcelona recreating the streets and alleyways of Paris, including Pelissier’s perfume shop, where Grenouille has his first experience of bottled scent. The city also doubled for Grasse, including Richis’ villa, the cathedral, and the great town square where Grenouille was to be executed.
To create the film’s opening and closing location the fish market 2.5 tons of fish and one ton of meat were dispersed across Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, leaving a stench that could be smelled for miles. Signs were covered and windows filled with era-appropriate materials. Anything too modern in Barcelona’s “Gothic Quarter” was covered by massive latex constructions stretched over houses in order to hide unsuitable items such as electric cables or modern window frames. The latex was then aged and dressed to match the existing old buildings.
The film also employed a “Dirt Unit,” comprised of about 60 young helpers, who used buckets and hoses to distribute various sorts of detritus all over the city. At the end of the day, they had to remove it all without a trace. Dubbed the “The Lord of the Dirt” by his crew, Tykwer often oversaw the dirt dumping and modified areas himself when he found the look too clean.
"This was France before there was a system for how to keep the streets clean or how to wash clothes every week,” explains Tykwer. “In fact, most people washed their clothes once a year. They didn’t undress for sex, they didn’t undress for sleeping, they just kept their clothes on because that’s the way they lived which I don’t think we’ve seen before in films. There was no deodorant most people didn’t use soap.”
For the perfume shops, more than a thousand perfume flacons, were filled by hand with a colored liquid not real perfume, of course. Additionally, 150 flacons were made especially for the scenes in the perfume shop bearing romantic names such as "Amor and Psyche" or "Night in Naples". Every set, every prop, every costume was created in perfect detail.
An entire week was spent on the climactic scene in which Grenouille appears before the crowd that has come to witness his execution. The Poble Esapañol, a popular open air museum, presented the perfect location for this extraordinary “orgy” sequence in which 750 extras were supported by 40 make-up and 35 wardrobe assistants.
Tykwer was acutely aware that the film’s spectacular finale would be an enormous challenge, and was determined to do justice to the literary material it was based on.
“I always imagined this sequence as a kind of choreography,” recalls Tykwer. “Almost like an emotional dance performance but as natural as possible at the same time,”
In fact, the director chose to enlist one of Europe’s most famous dance theatre troupes, “La
Fura dels Baus,” who are based in Barcelona. A longtime admirer of their work, he called upon the troupe leader Jurgen Muller and his assistant Lluis Fuster, who then recruited approximately 50 “key players” from their ensemble as well as 100 experienced performers. With choreography designed for a central group of 150 performers, the filmmakers were able to arrange the remaining 600 extras around them and rehearse a detailed execution of steps.
“These 750 people who gave us this extraordinary performance were miracle…like another great lead in the movie,” says Tykwer. “And ‘La Furla Dels Baus’ made an incredible contribution in helping us capture the amazing explosion of this intoxication in the movie.
In addition to the 29 days in Barcelona, the crew also spent 8 days in nearby Girona and 15 in Dalí’s town of Figueres. Both locations are in the northeastern corner of Spain, not far from the Pyrenean border with France. Several mountain and forest scenes were shot in the environs of Girona, which also provided the location of the home and studio of Mme. Arnulfi, from whom the picturesque Castell de San Ferran in Figures provided a variety of sets including Grimal’s noxious tannery and the Paris city gates. It’s dungeon served its original purpose for scenes with the captured Grenouille. Even the cave in the French Massif Central in which Grenouille makes the discovery that he has no scent of his own, was recreated in Figueres.
Gayraud, the costume designer, was already something of an authority on 18th century French fashion prior to joining the project. “As far back as a year before shooting started, I spent 15 weeks on research. I devoured a great number of books, essays, and illustrations of the day. I prepared a costume storyboard for all the sequences.” Gayraud delved into the individual qualities of each of the film’s characters and designed for each a specific palette and texture.
Then, Gayraud had the unenviable task of finding appropriate fabric for the clothes and finding a location for the tailoring. The production decided to go to Rumania, where, along with India, most of the necessary materials were purchased and made. Within three months, over 1400 costumes (including shoes, hats and other accessories) were prepared by workshops in and around Bucharest and sent to the film location. But none of the items of clothing were to look new.
"Our clothes had to look dirty and sweaty because the characters wearing them stank too,” explains Tykwer. “As soon as the clothing was ready, the first thing we did was to make them totally worn and dirty.”
The actors were also required to don the costumes and more or less live in them prior to shooting. Tykwer says: "In this way, the actors got to know every stitch of what they were wearing.”
For the central character, Gayraud says, “We wanted to show Grenouille as a shadow, a chameleon. So, he did not get any whites, and the cut of his mostly blue over-garments had to be maintained throughout the film. This made it easier for him to blend into the dim periphery of his world.”
Gayraud chose to dress Hurd-Wood not in the colourful regional dress that was the tradition of the time, but rather, in the less vivid tones of a Parisian demoiselle, thus highlighting her social aspirations as well as her glorious red hair.
The music to “Perfume” was composed by Tom Tykwer and his band mates, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil, and performed by the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle.
“While I was composing, I asked myself how the music should actually sound, and I quickly found the answer: it should sound like the Berlin Philharmonic!” says Tykwer.
Fortunately, Sir Simon Rattle was already familiar with the director of “Perfume,” when the orchestra voted him principal conductor in 1999, friends recommended Tykwer’s worldwide hit “Run Lola Run” as a good way of getting to know his new home of Berlin.
"Ever since then, I have admired Tom and thought, ‘we both live in Berlin, we really should meet!’” says Sir Simon.
“Working with the best orchestra on the planet was a real stroke of luck for us,” says Tykwer. “Sir Simon Rattle has used the personality and energy of the orchestra to add a whole new dimension to our music.“
The resulting soundtrack for the film is the first from Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic.
SCENTS AND SENSIBILITY
Throughout the centuries, there have been few secrets as closely guarded as the components in perfume. Although fragrant oils came to Europe as early as the 14th century, perfume flourished in the Renaissance era among royalty and the wealthy as a way to mask body odors resulting from the (lack of) sanitary practices. One of the first perfumes in the historical record is Eau de Cologne, which is thought to have been created in 1714 by an Italian perfumer named Johann Maria Farina. But, ultimately, it was France which became the center of the European perfume design and trade, particularly the Grasse region of the country flowers and aromatic plants have grown since the 18th century.
A perfumer is often referred to as “the nose,” due to a sophisticated sense of smell and an encyclopaedic knowledge of fragrance ingredients. He or she must be able to distinguish the hundreds of ingredients on their own and in combination with others.
Mixed with alcohol and water as a solvent, perfumes have traditionally been classified according to their notes:
Top notes create the sharp scents that form a person’s initial impression of a perfume. Among the common top notes are ginger and citrus.
Heart notes are the middle notes, which emerge after the first impression begins to dissipate. These scents can appear between two minutes and one hour after application. Heart notes, when combined with top notes are often described as head notes. Lavender and rose are popular heart notes.
Base notes appear after the departure of the top notes. Ingredients of this class are often fixatives used to hold the duration of the lighter notes. Musk and scents of plant resins are commonly utilized for base notes.
There are numerous techniques to extract aromatics from raw materials including Maceration/Solvent Extraction, Distillation, Expression and Enfleurage. Although the last method is not commonly used in the modern perfume industry, it was this technique absorbing aromatic materials into animal fat and then separating the infused oil with alcohol which the character of Grenouille refines for his own personal motives.
2006 Film Entertainment Magazine / EMOL.org