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June 1, 2007

"Not even wrong" By Luca Turin

"Not even wrong" By Luca Turin

Like a flu that’s been going round and catches up with you just when you thought you dodged it, I finally saw Perfume yesterday. The occasion was a private screening arranged by the Sunday Times to show the movie to four perfume experts and sample their reactions. Two of them were friends I hadn’t seen for ages, and the Times promised champagne and sandwiches, so I agreed to come. It turned out only Evian and no food was on offer. Had there been champagne I would have laughed all the way, instead I grimly clutched my mineral water.

Storyline. The boy develops a fabulous sense of smell because he was born in a fish market. Lucky for him: had he been delivered at a Guerlain store he might have been left anosmic for life. To him smell behaves like sound: he smells a passenger in an approaching carriage from a mile away. I generally feel that if you’re allowed to mess with the laws of physics, you should do something more interesting than flare your nostrils. He grows into an adolescent so gifted he replicates a complex perfume in thirty seconds merely by picking out its ingredients in stoppered bottles and mixing them in the right proportions. Surprisingly, he then asks the owner of the bottles to train him as a perfumer, like the Archangel Gabriel applying for fencing lessons.

He likes the smell of girls, though mysteriously he seems to find it evenly spread on their bodies. No fan of sustainable agriculture, he kills them. They tend to be virgins. By a small leap of logic much beloved of bigots through the ages, the deceased virgins’ smell represents Innocence. Once he has scraped off enough innocence from the young ladies (looked like an eighth of an ounce per virgin, they must have had oily skin) he mixes it all. Instead of smelling like a Moscow bus at rush hour, the mixture causes everyone, from police sergeant to executioner (he has in the meantime been caught) to fall to his knees in adoration.

Mercifully, side effects kick in: the crowd assembled to witness his execution starts tastefully fornicating on the village square. Innocence would never get EU approval: too unstable. The hero empties the rest of the virgin absolute on his head and dies smothered by a crowd trying to get into his knickers. The lights went on. The fourth person present, an Industry Representative, opined that the film gave an accurate idea of the power of fragrance. I left.

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