Perfumes is a gently paced, delightfully nuanced French comedy about a woman with a nose for fragrances.
Anne Walberg (Emmanuelle Devos) was employed by Dior, where she created some of the world’s most popular perfumes. But now she works for an assortment of contract clients, often trying to find ways to mask undesirable smells. She has a prickly relationship with her agent, Jeanne (Pauline Moulene), who negotiates the deals for her. Fundamentally, Walberg is a loner … a diva … temperamental and often viewed as cold and distant.
Guillaume Favre (Gregory Montel) is a separated father of a young daughter, Lea (Zelie Rhixon). For many years he’s worked as a chauffeur for a firm called Elite Driver, run by Arsene Pelissier (Gustave Kervern). Pelissier was about to let Favre go because he ran up a series of speeding tickets. But Favre pleaded to retain his job because he’s in a court battle to secure custody of his daughter every other week and that involves having to secure a larger flat. Pelissier relented and gave Favre his next assignment with Walberg, without informing him that she had already refused three other chauffeurs.
In the very early stages of their relationship Walberg not only expects Favre to carry her bags and heavy suitcases to the car. She instructs him not to smoke (either before or during the time he’s in her company), help her change the sheets on hotel beds where she stays, and tell clients she doesn’t want to meet with them. All of these are expectations without a simple “please” or “thank you”. Little wonder then that Favre doesn’t know what hit him.
Regardless, Walberg prevails on Pelissier to have Favre as her only chauffeur … and needing the money, Favre is left with no choice. At the same time, he is trying to navigate his relationship with his daughter. But the longer Favre works with Walberg, the more is revealed about her and a greater understanding between them develops.
Perfumes has been beautifully written and sensitively put together by Gregory Magne. The story develops nicely and is well worth sticking with.
The performances are first rate. Gregory Montel is excellent as the chauffer trying to keep it all together. As good as the delivery of his lines is, it is his facial expressions and body movements that contribute greatly to his offering. So, too, Emmanuelle Devos, who slips comfortably into the role of “the nose”, often presenting as awkward or uncomfortable. As the movie progresses, we get to understand the “hit” her character has taken. I also appreciated the “rough diamond” showing of Gustave Kervern as the owner of the limousine service. Pauline Moulene holds her own as Walberg’s agent, while Zelie Rhixon is plausible as Favre’s daughter.
I was also conscious of the mood music that helped portray what was going on at the time, so plaudits to Gaetan Roussel.
Perfumes is a small movie with heart.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.