Perfumes (Les Parfums):"A nose is not a nose"
Anne Walburg (Emmanuelle Davos) has one distinguishing feature on her face that makes her stand out from the crowd. It’s her nose. To be precise, it’s not that she has a nose; she is a nose. Not the physical protuberance that everyone has on their face. It is her olfactory organ that puts her a nose across the line when it comes to identifying scents and fragrances.
Her sense of smell can discern not just the smell of a lemon. She can tell you whether it is acetaldehyde citronellyl methyl acetal, methyl anthranilate Schiff’s base or heptyl phenyl acetate. When it comes to perfumes, she doesn’t name the fragrance J’Adore by Dior, but describes J'adore as "sweet but balmy, slightly sharp floral with fresh mandarin in the top; jasmine, plum, orchid and rose in the heart; and amaranth, musk and blackberry in the trail”.
You knew that already, did you? Then tell me, off the top of your head without checking online, the brand and name of the fragrance that “unleashes fresh and captivating top notes that blend Mandarin Leaf with Tunisian Orange Blossom; intense and vibrant, it reveals a powerful heart of Jasmine Sambac Absolute that blossoms with soft femininity and sensuality. The base unfurls in the deep and exquisite warmth of Bourbon Vanilla”.
Stumped? Nose out of joint? It’s not so easy, is it?
That’s why Anne is a nose. As an olfactory superstar, she has an agent who assigns jobs for her. Anne can compile fragrances that reproduce the scent of an underground cave, cover the smell of cat litter and overcome the offensive odours expelled into the atmosphere by large industrial factories.
Therein lies the problem. Anne uses her super-sensitive nose to cover bad smells rather than creating outstanding fragrances for luxury perfume companies, such as Dior, when she was a superstar in the perfume business. Although she has worked in the stratosphere of olfaction, she now does hack work to camouflage odours.
Her seemingly uncongenial manner and unsociable, withdrawn personality, allow her to treat others with disrespect. All of this points to a person who, due to her reputation as a “nose”, feels her elite position in life means she can be contemptuous of other people as fellow humans and in their professional lives. Anne is probably unaware of her condescending manner.
Anne & Guillaume
That is the situation until she encounters Guillaume Favre (Grégory Montel), a chauffeur who is contracted to drive her to various assignments. She lacks personal attachment and treats Guillaume as a dogsbody.
She instructs him to change the bedsheets in her hotel room because the artificial smell of the hotel’s laundry process make her oversensitive to the laundry powder. He is incensed at her attitude.
Not only does Guillaume drive her to her appointments, she runs interference for him when other people with whom she interacts ask outrageous things of her, such as sharing conversations with guests at a party to celebrate her agent’s birthday.
Using him as a packhorse to lug her luggage, including the precious cargo in the large grey trunk she carries as part of her work, soon incites Guillaume to speak up.
His initial hesitancy to confront Anne comes from his need for financial security so he can share custody with his teenage daughter, Léa (Zelie Rixhon).
Anne’s intransigence becomes insufferable. What we determine is her refusal to compromise her views actually signals Anne’s sense of social, emotional and professional vulnerability. She resists unguarded moments. Her behaviour is a protection mechanism rather than a projection of confidence.
Guillaume & his daughter, Léa
It is her insecurities and suppressed belief that she is capable of once again blending fragrances to the highest level of perfumery that hinder her life and interactions with others. She soon learns that Guillaume is plain-talking and lets her know that he is a person, not a footstool, and that it wouldn’t hurt her to say “Please” and “Thank you” once in a while.
Guillaume teaches Anne that life can be lived and involves difficulties and choices that can’t be solved by mixing a blend of scents to make a perfect dream.
Guillaume trying to make scents of it all
Guillaume’s sense of smell is filtered and clouded through cigarette smoke, as Anne reminds him constantly. She identifies the component ingredients of his cigarettes as she throws them out the car window. He does, however, remember the smell of freshly mown grass. Her only reaction to his emotional memories is to deride him with a list of chemicals and enzymes that determine the smell of grass.
Anne and Guillaume are strident individuals who shift, shape and blend their respective personalities and foibles into a life lesson that teaches each of them the meaning of rapport, consideration for others, caring, and tolerance.
Anne can deconstruct and blend scents to create perfume but Guillaume can attach emotional significance to scents. The combination of the two results in the smell of success.
Guillaume helps Anne discover that her perception of reality extends beyond what she can smell at the tip of her nose. Anne gradually learns to see the world and feel the rhythms of day-to-day relationships while Anne assists Guillaume discover that his broken relationship with his daughter can be resurrected by the simple joys of life.
Altogether, Perfumes (Les Parfums) is charming, gentle, affectionate and life-affirming.
Official Trailer Perfumes (Les Parfums)
WATCH Perfumes (Les Parfums) 2019 French language with subtitles
Screening currently at selected cinemas. Check session times at your local arthouse theatre.
Available to Rent on Amazon Prime.
Check availability in your region.
BY THE WAY: Frangrances from the real world Petrol Fume Fragrance
Ford has created a petrol fume fragrance for electric Mustang Mach-E (2021). Ford said the fragrance was inspired by “chemicals that are emitted from car interiors, engines and petrol” – including benzaldehyde, “an almond-like scent given off by car interiors”, and para-cresol which is “key in creating the rubbery scent of tyres”.
Ford says these scents were blended with ingredients such as “blue ginger, lavender, geranium and sandalwood that added metallic, smoky and further rubbery accents”.
An Australian Chardonnay has been described as a pretty pale yellow with a slight hint of copper to it in the glass. On the nose, it is full of juicy stonefruit, struck match, pawpaw and it has a lick of grapefruit to it.
Struck match? That description is a bit on the nose.
There you go, it's not as simple as, “a rose is a rose is a rose" (Gertrude Stein).
FILM EXTRAS: The Smell of Sock-cess
WATCH (& SMELL): Polyester (1981) featuring Odorama
Available to Rent/Buy on Apple TV+
You may have to provide your own genuine smells because sadly, or perhaps fortunately, buying/renting Polyester doesn’t come with the scratch and sniff cards with smells of fart, skunk and dirty socks.
A Scratch & Sniff Card from original Polyester cinema screenings.
A Whiff of Polyester: Inside the Odorama Process
Inspired by the gimmickry of genre maestro William Castle and such turn-of-the-sixties stunts as Smell-O-Vision and AromaRama, which piped scents into theaters during select films, John Waters came up with his own proprietary system for incorporating the olfactory sense into the cinematic experience—all in order to bring audiences closer to Polyester’s housewife protagonist, Francine Fishpaw (Divine), whose own powerful sense of smell helps her steer her way through domestic turmoil. The film was accompanied by the wonders of Odorama: scratch-and-sniff cards were distributed to audience members, who were then cued by the film precisely when to scratch off each of the ten numbered smells. In the inimitable Waters’ conception, the gimmick was also a genial prank on moviegoers: among the scents were fart, skunk spray, and dirty socks
Smell-O-Vision was a system that released odour during the projection of a film so that the viewer could "smell" what was happening in the movie. The technique was created by Hans Laube and made its only appearance in the 1960 film Scent of Mystery, produced by Mike Todd Jr., son of film producer Mike Todd. The process injected 30 odours into a movie theater's seats when triggered by the film's soundtrack.
READ: Nikolai Gogol's The Nose
The Nose is a satirical short story by Nikolai Gogol written during his time living in St. Petersburg. The Nose tells the story of a St. Petersburg official, Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov, who wakes up one morning without his nose. He later finds out that his nose has developed a life of its own, and has apparently surpassed him by attaining the rank of State Councillor.
The sheer absurdity of the story has made The Nose an important part of St. Petersburg's literary tradition.
READ: Patrick Süskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, a novel by German writer Patrick Süskind , explores the sense of smell and its relationship with the emotional meanings that scents may have. The story follows Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an unloved orphan in 18th-century France who is born with an exceptional sense of smell capable of distinguishing a vast range of scents in the world around him. Grenouille becomes a perfumer but later becomes involved in murder when he encounters a young girl with an unsurpassed wondrous scent.
Available to buy from Penguin Books: Perfume, The Story of a Murderer