Sometimes, in order to create something beautiful, you simply have to follow your nose.
Set in Paris, Perfumes tells the story of Guillaume Favre (Gregory Montel), a divorced father who is struggling to get his life together. Strapped financially, Guillaume takes a job as a chauffeur in order to make ends meet. However, he soon meets his greatest challenge in the form of Anne Walberg (Emmanuelle Devos). She’s a gifted perfumer who may be at the top of her craft. But she maintains a prickly (and demanding) demeanour with others. Though she grates on him, Guillaume accepts the job for the sake of his daughter. The two struggle to connect at first. However, they eventually find that their different views may be enough to create something new.
Written and directed by Gregory Magne, Perfumes is a charming film about what it means to find value in others, despite our quirks and differences. Funny and poignant, Magne takes a simple approach to his film by focusing on the characters and their relationships. Stars Devos and Montel have delightful chemistry onscreen that doesn’t force romance yet never refuses its potential either. As their relationship evolves from chauffeur/client to partners, so too does their rapport with one another. With each conversation, Anne and Guillaume develop increasing trust and respect for one another. And their connection becomes the anchor to the film’s success.
As Anne and Guillaume build their bond, Perfumes shows its hand. As a former perfume designer, Anne understands how difficult it can be to create something new from two ingredients that seem incongruent. To her, the goal is not to mask a scent but to find something that complements and balances it out. (This becomes particularly apparent through scenes like the tannery or the dealing with the factory scents.) Anne understands that even the most horrible scents have value when they are surrounded by the proper supports.
This scientific equation of aroma (that may seem a bit excessive but it is very much an artform in this film) becomes a mirror to Anne and Guillaume’s relationship. As two broken pieces, the two seem as though they simply do not fit in the real world. However, the closer they become, the more fully formed they both seem. In this way, Perfumes carries a certain simplistic beauty as it points to the power of community for all. Despite their differences and the lack of safe spaces that they have in the rest of their lives, Anne and Guillaume find a home with one another. Though they both have gruff exteriors, they somehow bring out the purest ‘scent’ of the other and create something new. Together, their lives maintain a more pleasing aroma than they did separately.
Featuring engaging performances and a solid script, Perfumes is a delightful surprise that pleases the palette. By keeping a modest approach in his filmmaking, Magne wisely steps back as a director to gives his characters room to breathe. With the freedom that they’re given, the cast has space to create something special that leaves a fragrant aroma of grace after the credits have rolled.