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Tom Tykwer's big challenge

Posted at 2:59 PM on December 19, 2006 by Euan Kerr


Tom Tykwer (left in gray shirt) directs a scene from "Perfume." The film stars Ben Whishaw (center in the light shirt) as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man with an incredible sense of smell. (Image courtesy of Dreamworks Pictures)

Talk about pressure: the New York Times recently reported that when someone asked reclusive writer Patrick Suskind about who should film his best-selling novel "Perfume" he said he only wanted either Stanley Kubrick or Milos Forman as director.

Kubrick died and Forman said he wasn't interested.

Then 20 years after the book's publication "Run, Lola, Run" director Tom Tykwer (pronounced TICK-ver) got the job. I had the chance to talk to him recently and asked him if Suskind's announced preferences increased the pressure on him as a director.

"He never confirmed that to me," he laughed about the Kubrick/Forman story. "I know that they had been in talks that's probably why. But I don't think he was saying these are the only guys who can do it. It's just that I think he was interested in having them do it. I think he was always kind of mixed about the idea that this film would be made and I think ultimately he just gave up in being much involved with it."

"Perfume" tells the story of an 18th century street orphan who has the best nose in the history of human kind. Such is is sensitivity to smells he can "see" for miles around him just by inhaling. His talent brings him good fortune as he learns the art of perfume-making, then it leads him to disaster as his obsession with creating the perfect scent leads to chaos and murder.

Tykwer's first big challenge was to how to project smell or at least an illusion of scent perception on screen.

"If it worked in the novel, it was obviously an achievement of the language, because I have always said, 'Well, the book doesn't smell does it?'" he says. "You know, what language of literature can do for the book I have been always convinced that language of film can do for the movies."

He says what he needed was to find the correct cinematic language to translate as abstract a concept as scent into the story.

It has to be said he's done a pretty amazing job of it. "Perfume: the story of a murderer" opens in early January. we'll air the interview on MPR then.

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