Perfume Films

I think it’s fair to say that most areas of professional or academic interest have a defining film – architects have Metropolis, fashionistas have The Devil Wears Prada, psychologists have The Silence of the Lambs. There are even movies about making movies (Hail, Caesar!, The Disaster Artist…). Those of us who follow our noses have Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. But as far as movies purely about perfume itself (murderous as it might be), that’s about it.

There are seemingly hundreds of brilliant books on perfume, but the amount of screen time these ephemeral wonders get is quite scant. Here’s a list of the ones I can think of. If you’re half as interested in perfumes as I am, I wholeheartedly recommend you watch them all.

Perfect Sense (2011)

A pandemic film about the senses – how appropriate.
In a world often closely resembling what we’ve seen these last two years, a pandemic causes every person on Earth to lose their sense of smell, and a while later, taste. Told through the eyes of an epidemiologist and a chef, this fantastic film has you asking some big questions. I recently rewatched it while I was sick with Covid and couldn’t smell a thing, and this movie definitely hits differently when you’re dealing with a sickness not unlike the one on screen. This is my favourite in this list.

Emily in Paris (2020)

Yes, it was an unashamedly unrealistic story set in an Americanised Paris, but hey, it was entertaining (I know at least one Frenchman who concurs). In this series, the perfumer Antoine Lambert is a recurring character who charms and repulses with his often peculiar ideas (“she isn’t naked – she’s wearing perfume!”).

Nose (2021)

While this documentary felt like more of a Dior marketing piece than a true exploration of master perfumer François Demachy’s life or craft, it was nonetheless a beautiful experience, spanning continents and drawing you into this man’s arcane and unseen world. It will have you running to your nearest Dior counter just as soon as the credits roll.

Perfume (2011)

This was the first documentary on perfume I ever watched. A few minutes into the first episode, I was hooked. Spanning pretty much the entire world of perfumery on a surface level, this is the perfect introduction to fragrance. My favourite part of this three-part BBC documentary was the extensive interview with Jean-Claude Ellena, who was the in-house perfumer (or “nose”) of Hermès at the time. He is one of the best-known perfumers and perfume writers alive, and I own a few of his books.

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009)

I’ll admit I don’t remember much of this film, but I recall that there was some mention of perfume and perhaps a visit to a perfumery in Grasse where Chanel N°5 was born. Or was that Coco Avant Chanel (2009)? Either way, I remember this film about two artistic giants being worth a watch.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

As I mentioned, this is the definitive perfume film. It follows a boy born into the stench of an 18th-century Paris fish market and gifted with a perfect sense of smell. He eventually becomes addicted to a certain smell, and goes on a string of murders to bottle it for himself. Anyway, it’s definitely worth watching, or if you’ve got the time, reading.

Have you seen any of these, or have a recommendation for me? Let me know in the comments.

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