Producer Bernd Eichinger read the novel when it was first published in 1985. He immediately approached the author Patrick Süskind, to obtain the film rights. "It was such a unique story, powerful on so many levels. I sensed that it would make an extraordinary film." But Süskind would not sell to anyone. The book remained on many illustrious filmmakers' wish-lists for years, with Süskind refusing all offers. His reluctance to sell the rights became legend.
"I thought it would be particularly easy because we were friends", Eichinger remembers, "but Süskind didn't want to sell at the time". By 1986, a year after the novel was published it had already become a worldwide best-seller. "PERFUME" has been translated into 45 languages and is the second most successful German language novel of all time (the first being Remarque's war drama "All Quiet on the Western Front".) Not only were there regular requests from Eichinger's offices to the publisher, but also from prominent colleagues. "At that time, in the mid-eighties, Süskind didn't want to sell the rights at all", Bernd Eichinger remembers today. "And he maintained this position for quite a long time."I just don't think Süskind could imagine who could really adapt this complex material." Perfume director Tom Tykwer adds.
But stamina pays, especially in the fast-moving film business, and when Eichinger asked again in 2000, Süskind finally gave in and Eichinger, at long last, got the rights to bring "Perfume" to the screen. "When I became aware that he was no longer saying 'No, no', but 'Maybe', I asked the publishing house one more time. They explained to me that Patrick definitely did not want to be involved in any potential film project. It was a similar case to THE NAME OF THE ROSE when Eco didn't want to actively participate in the film project either. But to cut a long story short: we were finally able to reach an agreement and I got the rights", Eichinger summarises.
Then Tom Tykwer entered the picture - for Eichinger the ideal director for this magnum opus, one of the most expensive German-made film productions ever. "It was clear from the outset that Tom and I wanted to make a modern film. Tom is an extremely innovative director who is not afraid of experimenting, but still likes to construct a film around a classical framework. And in the end, the film looks exactly the same under his directorship as I had always imagined it."
The film was promoted by the regional promoters "FilmFernsehFonds Bayern" and "Bayerischer Bankenfonds", the "FFA" (the Film Promotion Institution), the "Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen" and "Eurimages". "The film is a European co-production in accordance with the European Convention with the Spanish, the French, a private co financing contribution plus a co-production contribution from a media fund. But our film could hardly be more German: the author is German, the director is German and the producer is German. Only the cast is international", summarises Eichinger.
FINANCING THE FILM
PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER was financed by the independent German film company, Constantin Film, with whom Eichinger has close links - he was formerly its CEO and supervisory board chairman - Swiss entrepreneur and patron Gigi Oeri, (investing in a film project for the first time) and the Munich-based VIP Medienfonds. "I heard that Gigi Oeri was interested in investing in a film - in particular this film. Thanks to her financial contribution we were able to maintain our independence and stay true to our vision and it also gave us the possibility to obtain a contract with Dreamworks for the US-Market, which had always been the ideal scenario for us.", Eichinger explains.
DIFFICULTIES IN DRAFTING THE SCREENPLAY
"The problem is also, of course, that the main character doesn't express himself. A novelist can use narrative to compensate for this; that's not possible in film. An audience can usually only get a feeling for a character if the character speaks. Our biggest problem was therefore a narrative one", says Eichinger, explaining the difficulties in drafting the script. "I'd met with many international directors and screenwriters - I didn't think of a German initially. But I couldn't find any consensus with them on the question of what kind of film it should actually turn out to be. It was a lot easier with my previous projects - we reached an agreement quickly, such as with Jean-Jacques Annaud with THE NAME OF THE ROSE or Bille August with THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS. It was much more difficult with PERFUME, because we had to go right to the basics of narrative. Although many directors showed great interest, none of them could tell me how a potential movie would actually have to look. It all remained very vague."
A critically acclaimed screenwriter in his own right, Eichinger wrote the screenplay for his Oscar nominated German film, DOWNFALL. He chose Andrew Birkin to help him bring his vision of PERFUME to the screen in English. Birkin had been one of the writers on Eichinger's screen version of THE NAME OF THE ROSE, and Bernd had produced Birkin's directorial outings, SALT ON OUR SKIN and THE CEMENT GARDEN
Eichinger continues, "Then Andrew Birkin came. We both started drafting the script. The big question of who could be the director came up again. With material like this it is especially important for a director to get involved in the script. Usually, a story is constructed in which a hero goes through a catharsis and as a rule comes out of it a different person. If you take SILENCE OF THE LAMBS as a comparison, where Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter play off each other, in PERFUME we only have Lecter."
Although a Hannibal Lecter does kill out of a passion of a kind, Grenouille carries out his murders from a sober necessity in order to complete his 'work of art'. Eichinger remembers that after a great many meetings in search of the best director, the decision in favor of Tykwer, who received international acclaim with his highly original film RUN LOLA RUN and the cryptic drama HEAVEN, was "very easy to make".
And there were two reasons in particular for this: "Tom is incredibly innovative as an artist on the one hand, and on the other he also has a very popular approach as a filmmaker. He was already giving the right answers in our very first discussions. That's why we decided to work on the script together, so that we could get to know each other better. But at some point it was clear to us that he should become the director too".
Over the course of the next two years, the trio continued to hone the screenplay
adaptation. For Tykwer, the adaptation was "a great challenge, since the novel is extremely complex, a strangely intimate epic. I suppose an important attraction for me was that there's an underlying theme in the book that is similar to those in my previous films. Here, too, we have a central character fighting for recognition and love, trying to draw attention to himself because he longs for a real human connection. Longing for connection is a theme in all my films." The co-writer/director also had another challenge: "I find so many period films boring, so my aim from the outset was to make one that was really modern in terms of film language but still remained true to its historical obligations, in the same way the novel's modern narrative is never sacrificed to its historical accuracy."
Eichinger appreciates that Tykwer is a "conservative filmmaker who likes to experiment nonetheless and has great visionary power. This is exactly what you need for such a project, one in which you won't get far with the usual dramaturgical tricks. It's not only narrative, but associative procedure that is crucial to PERFUME. And it is extremely rare for me to take this line of procedure in one of my films. I would usually concentrate on the narrative and leave little room for association. But in our case I had to take an associative line in order to bridge the narrative gaps. In dramaturgical terms, this movie violates every rule."
Producer Eichinger is known for taking on difficult material and adapting it for the screen. THE NAME OF THE ROSE, the "professor's novel" had been considered inadaptable by many. Eichinger's award winning screen version went on to break box office records around the world.
What impressed Eichinger most about the novel was the truly amoral protagonist Grenouille, who acts "without any idea of ethics but also without any love, any feelings of responsibility or human grace. You would not see a character like this in 99.9% of regular movies", concludes Eichinger. "So it's not a question of identifying with him, but, rather, of understanding his motives. We needed to write this character in a way that an audience would be fascinated by his obsession. If you can understand his obsession, you're into the character and the movie. This was by far more important to me than the question of how to portray odors within a cinematic framework."
Once the screenplay was finished, Eichinger and Tykwer began a meticulous preparation period with the engagement of three key creative crew members.
FINDING THE CREW
First on board were cinematographer, Frank Griebe; production designer, Uli Hanisch; and costume designer, Pierre-Yves Gayraud. Cinematographer Griebe, multiple winner of the German Film Award (for RUN LOLA RUN amongst others), has shot all of Tom Tykwer's films. Hanisch, German Film Award winner in the category of production design (for Oliver Hirschbiegel's THE EXPERIMENT) has set the scenic tone on many of Tykwer's projects. Gayraud designed the costumes for Tykwer's award winning short, TRUE, having met the director through RUN LOLA RUN star, Franka Potente, whom he dressed in THE BOURNE IDENTITY.
While the decision to take on Alan Rickman as the cunning merchant Richis and Dustin Hoffman as Grenouille's master Baldini came easily, the search for a suitable Grenouille was difficult at first. "So many people have read this book, so we had to find an actor that wasn't only suitable for us, but who could also fulfil the expectations all former readers and future cinemagoers would have of him", explains Tykwer. "Although there were many willing actors, it only really seemed plausible to choose someone for this role who was completely unknown. You could also say a "nobody" who is to become a "somebody" - because that's what the story is about too. I then saw, on someone's recommendation, Ben Wishaw as Hamlet in Trevor Nunn's production at the Old Vic in London, and felt immediately: I've got him! There followed an audition, which immediately convinced Bernd of Ben's potential as well."
By contrast, getting the multi-Oscar winning Dustin Hoffman to play Baldini was a simple agreement between friends. "I had always wanted to get him for a part.
Furthermore, we are good friends. Dustin also wanted to work with me after he saw RUN LOLA RUN. When I took on this project I knew straight away that there was no one who could play Baldini better. It simply had to work because there's no way I could have accepted anyone else playing the part", says Tykwer, laughing. It was also relatively easy to set up the relationship between Hoffman/Baldini and Whishaw/Grenouille in dramaturgical terms. "With these two we had found the perfect constellation: on the one hand, the icon of the modern Hollywood movie and on the other the unknown talent who is about to break loose. Which also fits in nicely with the plot of the film."
The third protagonist in the group was played by the experienced stage and film actor Alan Rickman. Here, too, the decision was far from difficult: "Alan was also my first choice as Richis - we didn't offer the role to anyone else. I wanted to give Richis ambiguity because he is, in the book and the film, someone who cuts himself off from his fellow citizens, has a sharp mind and strong intuition and an idolatrous love for his daughter", recapitulates Tykwer on the theme of the cast, which is completed by Rachel Hurd-Wood, born in 1990 in London, who plays the daughter who is admired to the point of obsession by both Richis and Grenouille.
But there are also some German actors in important supporting roles. Eichinger says in this context: "We did extensive casting in the United States, England and Germ any. And it is the case that even a four-minute performance that fails is enough to ruin an entire film. So if you don't know someone very well indeed it could end in a catastrophe.
Supporting roles are incredibly important, which is why I make a special effort to find actors I can rely on for the supporting roles. That applied to Birgit Minichmayr, who played Grenouille's mother and with whom I'd previously worked, and also to Jessica Schwarz as Natalie or Corinna Harfouch (who gave a stunning performance as Frau Goebbels in DOWNFALL) as Madame Arnulfi." But the choice of Karoline Herfurth to play the plum girl was, according to Eichinger, a "last minute decision" because a suitable actress couldn't be found. "And not even in England or the United States. And then I suddenly thought: wait a minute - let's have a look at who we have in Germany.
And I had already made two films with Karoline. The final decision was made when we did a test, in costume and with the right hair color, together with Ben Whishaw, at which Karoline really proved herself. So we decided to expand her role."
The spectacular shooting took place from 12 July to 16 October 2005; the first 15 days was spent entirely on the largest stage of Bavaria Studios in Munich, shooting the scenes between Baldini and Grenouille in the former's workshop. The remaining scenes, including the Paris fish market and the events in the "perfume city" of Grasse, were shot in Spain, specifically in Barcelona, Girona and Figueras. Tykwer was in command of a crew of up to 350 and a total of 5200 extras, sometimes with nearly a thousand at once - a massive effort of logistics.
An accomplished musician, Tykwer has scored all of his films. Together with his band mates, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil he wrote the score for PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER.
Post-production took place in Munich and was finalized in the summer of 2006.
THE MAKING OF "PERFUME": INTRODUCTION
"It was a bit crazy at times, standing ankle-deep in fish entrails, giving instructions in four languages with nearly a thousand extras around me," laughs Tykwer. To him, "one simply has to acknowledge that everything depends on very well-planned logistics."
"Logistics" was the magic word during these shoots. The shooting took place largely between 12 July and 16 October 2005 in Munich (Bavaria Studios) and Spain (Barcelona, Girona and Figueres). It was all kicked off at the end of June with a 3-day trip to the Provence to film some landscapes (e.g. for the lavender fields that are important for manufacturing the perfume). Tykwer was in charge of a crew of up to 350 and a total of 5200 extras that breathed life into over 100 motifs and supported 67 actors. But this project was, for cast and crew alike, a real road movie, just as the protagonist, Grenouille, is constantly on the move as part of the plot and moves from the gloomy city of Paris southwards towards Grasse, near the Côte d'Azur.
Director Tom Tykwer was not daunted by the budget, which was extraordinarily high for a European production: "This kind of sum is more or less beyond normal thinking anyway. When you finally get started on the filming, you only see the structural connections and therefore all the people involved in it. Because all this money mostly has to be channeled into the manpower. The set costs are relatively low by comparison.
This then puts the whole madness that such a major project unleashes into perspective." "In any case, you won't be seeing a normal costume movie", adds producer Bernd Eichinger. "The film has an expensive look to it. The audience will see pictures that have not been seen in this way before. But the biggest danger is drifting off towards a conventional costume movie. Since this is a modern film, the actors must also wear their costumes as they would their everyday clothes. Authenticity is one thing, but you need a modern approach as well. A bit like THE NAME OF THE ROSE, which is also set in the Middle Ages but is not just a costume film either. A film must be able to stand as an independent work of art, and in order to achieve this an author has to be able to find new approaches. THE GODFATHER didn't become a movie classic because it stuck faithfully to the book, it became one because it was an innovative piece of filmmaking."
Tykwer elaborates, "From the outset, we've established the story in an intense reality that will immediately bridge the gap to an initially alien 18th century. We wanted to make a film that had maximum traction; the audience should concentrate on the story right from the start, without being distracted by the appeal of the background, impressive as it may be." Well-founded research proved to be the key to achieving that goal.
The two people mainly responsible for the research were Tykwer's old comrade-in-arms Uli Hanisch and the French costume designer, Pierre-Yves Gayraud. "In the beginning, all our time was spent studying paintings, literature and scholarly works concerning 18th century France during the reign of Louis XV", says production designer Hanisch. "The aim was to become familiar enough with this particular Rococo period to be able to use it with ease as a background for the film's story-line." "In historical terms, the 18th century is less familiar to us than the 19th, the industrial age when electricity and big machines gradually started to dominate everyday life", explains Hanisch. In addition to this, the filmmakers had to familiarize themselves with the largely secret methods of perfume manufacture - those methods that were used in pre-industrial times, before modern, high-performance laboratories existed. The researchers also gained an insight into the health-endangering handcraft, which nearly destroyed the young Grenouille both in the novel and the script, at a tannery in Germany that still processes leather using largely the traditional methods.
The story is set in Paris and the south of France, from the 1730s to the 1760s. The filmmakers needed to learn about this era, what "Louis Quinze" signified, what drove the social mechanisms, how people behaved and what they believed in. "The most interesting thing for me about the novel was that the author, Patrick Süskind, did not describe the life of the time so much from the high society angle. There is, of course, the rich and noble world of Richis the merchant, with fine clothes and big social gatherings, but this world, mostly viewed from the outside by Grenouille, makes up only about five percent of the film. The book and the film are more concerned with the historical reality from "below", so to speak, i.e. the lower and middle classes from the mid-18th century ", recapitulates Tykwer.
For department heads Hanisch, Tykwer and Griebe (RUN LOLA RUN, BERLIN BLUES among others, winner of the German Film Award), this pre-industrial 18th century, in which both book and film are set has, during their research, transformed itself into an epoch that resembles more the dark, Middle Ages. On the one hand this is due to the fact that there was a lack of adequate lighting available at the time and on the other because of the story-line itself. "Our film has a distinctly dark aesthetic to it and tells the story of a shadowy figure. We oriented ourselves towards painters that specialized in darkness with few sources of light, such as Caravaggio, Joseph Wright of Derby and Rembrandt. The people of the time had only a candle to light their world. Outside that light source, their universe was totally black," says Tykwer.
It would then also be wholly unsuitable for the costumes of the time, especially those of the lower classes, to be bright and gleaming. "We put great value on PERFUME not being a sterile film, for which an ambitious tailor had made the clothes with great precision and the actors had only put these clothes on five minutes before the shooting started", says Tykwer. The crew was complemented by the French costume designer Pierre-Yves Gayraud. Gayraud designed the costumes for Tykwer's award winning short, TRUE, having met the director through RUN LOLA RUN star, Franka Potente, whom he dressed in THE BOURNE IDENTITY. He was already something of an authority on 18th century French fashion, prior to joining the project. "As far back as a year before shooting started, I spent 15 weeks on research. I devoured a great number of books, essays, and illustrations of the day. I prepared a costume storyboard for all the sequences." He had to delve into the individual qualities of each of the film's characters. The odorless outsider, Grenouille, for example, required a specific palette and texture. "Since we wanted to show Grenouille as a shadow, a chameleon, he did not get any whites, and the cut of his mostly blue over-garments had to be maintained throughout the film. This made it easier for him to remain "invisible" in the dim periphery of his world." Gayraud chose to dress Rachel Hurd-Wood, who plays Laura, the merchant's innocent daughter, not in the colorful regional dress that was the tradition of the time, but rather, in the less vivid tones of a Parisian demoiselle, thus highlighting her social aspirations as well as her glorious red hair.
Then, Gayraud had the unenviable task of procuring appropriate fabric for the clothes and finding a location for carrying out the tailoring. The production decided to go to Rumania, where most of the necessary materials were purchased. Within three months, over 1400 costumes (in addition to shoes, hats and other accessories) were prepared by workshops in and around Bucharest and sent to the film location. But none of the items of clothing were to look new: "Our clothes had to look dirty and sweaty because the characters wearing them stank too. As soon as the clothing was ready, the first thing we did was to make them totally worn and dirty. This breaking-down procedure was undoubtedly the heaviest work of the entire costume-making process", grins Tykwer.
Additionally, the actors were required to don the costumes and more or less live in them prior to shooting. Tykwer says: "In this way, the actors got to know every stitch of what they were wearing."
This costume break-down was also intended to help make the 18th century odors (an essential component of the original novel) "visible" for the film medium. "Literature must, of course, always work with the transfer of senses, since a book does not normally smell." But for Tykwer, film has just as valid "a language as literature. For this reason, our film "universe" needed to be palpable, tangible. That means that the audience must really experience everything through Grenouille directly, from the moment of his birth in the filth of the Paris fish market", says Tykwer.
DESIGNING AND SHOOTING THE FILM
MEET THE DIRECTOR AND THE WRITERS
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