In classic comic fashion, Perfumes throws together two individuals from the opposite ends of society and lets their pointy edges and preconceived ideas bump up against each other for our amusement. Unlike many less accomplished efforts, however, Grégory Magne’s second feature manages to retain a good degree of spontaneity and avoids the pitfall of excessive schmaltz, resulting in a gently engaging film that taxes as little as it thrills.
On one hand, we have down-on-his-luck chauffeur Guillaume (Grégory Montel), who has separated from his wife and has been battling to maintain any custodial rights over his daughter. In order to satisfy the judge’s demands of a bigger apartment, Guillaume is barely clinging on to his job when he is assigned to cart around finickity nose-for-hire Anne (Emmanuelle Devos). Once an in-demand master perfumer, Anne lost it all when her sense of smell went AWOL one day years ago. Ever since, she’s been eking out a comfortable but unfulfilling existence flogging her olfactory skills to the highest bidder, thanks to the efforts of her money-grabbing agent Jeanne (Pauline Moulène).
Predictably, the two personalities rub up against each other in sporadic bouts of bristling antagonism. Guillaume feels his good nature is being taken advantage of and his uncultivated manners out of place next to Anne’s hoity-toity, glacial veneer, while she seems to experience equal amounts of mild amusement and offence when confronted with interactions with other human beings. Montel is excellent at portraying Guillaume as the likeable everyman who just can’t catch a break, while Devos is adequate but not entirely convincing as the brittle snob with a heart of gold underneath.
Thankfully, the script veers clear of well-trodden tropes of the genre and real effort is made to grant sufficient depth to both of the leads, although peripheral personalities are very thinly-sketched. It’s a minor criticism, though, since Guillaume comfortably shoulders the lion’s share of the screen time and the film’s interest, with Anne’s journey towards self-discovery an amusing accompaniment. Artful framing and a steady but unhurried pace keep things ticking over enjoyably enough until the final act, which although perhaps predictable and a little trite as a result, still satisfies.
All in all, that makes for a soft-nosed tale of humanity that compensates with heart and charm what it lacks in conflict and impetus. Compared to similar dramedies of its type and country of origin, it more than holds its own and neatly sidesteps coming across as too showy or try-hard. Instead, the lasting impressions of the film are optimistic, comforting and somehow familiar, like an aroma scented on the breeze that transports the viewer back to simpler times and safer climes.
As part of the Ed Film Fest At Home 2020