Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Of Films: Bafflers and Elegies

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Professor Snape

I heard about the book through Sep, who exclaimed over dinner one night that she wants to get her hands on the novel Perfume, which the movie I’m about to discuss is based on. I trust Sep’s taste for it has never failed me yet, so I decided to find the book meself. Turns out, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. Nothing in bookstores, nothing on-line. I’ve also surfed the pirate waves, and came up with nada, zilch, niente. So I just went to a video store and borrowed a copy of the movie which sat gathering flies on the New Releases shelf. I felt a surge of hope when I saw how nobody seems to want to watch it. Hellboy and My Only U is all out, but Perfume remained. It must be more than just crap then. More people like crap nowadays, sells better. And I was right.

Visually gripping, would be my word for the film. How one movie can capture reality so viscerally, I cannot say. I am not sure it was even possible. The theme of the movie felt Harry Potteri-ish, especially with the narration done by John Hurt (I did wonder why the narration sounded British when the story took place in Paris), but you overlook these things because it blends in with what you’re seeing: a seething Paris marketplace, an empty alley, hills, sea, throngs of smelly people. I can also go as far as saying the movie was so sensory (sensorical? Sensual doesn’t seem the right word)fulfilling you can almost smell it as well.

The story is about Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, born under a fish stall and left for dead by his mother. He survives; the mother did not --- she was accused of murder and was hanged. Jean-Baptiste (let’s call him JB) was sent to an orphanage and was dutifully neglected by everyone. But if there’s one remarkable thing about this boy was that his sense of smell is so keen that it’s almost a superpower. It’s as if he can see with his eyes. He can smell a frog laying eggs from yards away. He can smell people from miles away. And his world was about smells, until one fateful day, capturing and preserving scent became his obsession. You know from first on that JB, played by Ben Wishaw, did not grow up right. He had some strange fate waiting for him, in some dark alleyway. And that’s exactly how it played out. His obsession of preserving human scent led him to apprentice himself to Baldini (played by Dustin Hoffman) where he learned of distilling scent. But even this did not suffice him. He needed a way to preserve the scent without liquefying it. With overtures of the mad scientist and tortured artiste in him, he went to learn another way of capturing scent: wrapping them in cloths brushed with animal fat and then condensing the fat to release the single drop of essence. His former mentor Baldini told him of a scent so sublime that everyone who smells would feel like they’re in Paradise. JB wanted this, and to achieve it, he needed to preserve the scent of the most beautiful creatures that walks the earth. He killed 13 virgins, took their essence, and put together the magical perfume. He was caught though, but then he found ways to escape, until he realized he could never escape who he is.

It’s weird that in this film, I found myself rooting for the antihero. I wanted him to find the 13th virgin and successfully capture her scent. It was already clear he was amoral, and there’s an innocence to his actions that bespoke of no evil. Odd, I tell you.

You have to watch it. Nothing blows up. There’s not even much blood. I can’t say it was a beautiful film, but then again, what is beauty? But if you are after cheap thrills, who prefers stuff like Hellboy, I might be able to persuade you to watch by hinting that a mass orgy takes place at the near end of the film.

Ha! I bet that got your attention.

Speaking of the ending, I found it hard to suspend disbelief at the end of the film, and it was only then I realized it was a fantasy story ( I even almost thought it was biographical at one point, my bad). I got muddled a bit, but since every frame was so… beautifully unpretty, I am more than willing to forgive.

Grace is Gone
Starring: John Cusack

Allow me to sing a song to the undersung heroes of Hollywood. One in particular. John Cusack. Hands down, he is one of the most likeable actors out there, and he can play every boring character in the world and make it watch-able. Don’t get carried away though. The movie Grace is Gone isn’t for everyone. It could come across as boring, even. That is, if you have never been touched by either grief or tragedy, or perhaps just oblivious to it.

The film’s story revolves around Stanley (J. Cusack) and his 2 daughters, who are living life without Mom because she’s off fighting the war in Iraq. One day, the feared thing happened: Grace dies in action and Stanley did not know how to break the news to his girls. So he took them on a road trip to Florida, while he gathered the courage he needed to tell them what happened.

No, I did not get any preachy vibes about war or honor throughout the whole movie. It just wasn’t the purpose they wanted to serve, I guess. To me, it felt more like, an Elegy to Grief.

How could one movie get so much of it right?

From the point of knowing Death has come, to the strange personal rituals of trying to recapture sight, sound, feeling, everything and nothing.

Stuff they did that I did:

The Silence – I just needed to be quiet. Tears may flow, you don’t notice, but no actual weeping happens. You try to stay calm, while inside your head you’re too busy screaming to every cell you have in your body to Shut up-- it isn’t happening.

The House Tour – you just walk around in what seems like a haze, but actually, your senses have never been so heightened. You go from room to room, from living area to bathrooms, trying to sense that point in space they used to occupy, increasingly decreasing. So you touch things, you smell them, you talk to inanimate objects, pleading for them to return to you what you’ve just lost.

You go to the car, and you just Sit. You stare at the windshield and notice flecks of dirt. You will look at anything just so you won’t have to think.

You Run Away – for them, it’s Enchanted Gardens in Florida. For me, it’s inside my head. Ran away from pain by assuming responsibilities and pretending you’re not a mess inside. You say you went to Palawan to give yourself a break. You don’t tell anyone that for a fleeting second, you never wanted to go back home.

Fuck, let’s stop this.

I could list all the things that struck me in the movie. But if you’ve never been there, you wouldn’t understand. And if you’ve been there, I don’t need to explain.

Let’s just say, don’t watch the movie when you’re depressed. You might just end up offing yourself. But if it was the right time already, like how I’d like to think it was for me today, it might just restore your soul.

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