Perfume: A Film that you can smell it

Usually we use the expression of ‘see a film’, because it is our eyes we need to watch those moving pictures (that is why a film is also called ‘movie’ or ‘motion picture’) .And, of course, we also need our ears to listen. ‘An Audio-Visual Feast’ would be a great commendation for a film. When I put the word ‘smell’ in the article title, you must be wondering whether I misspelled or used a wrong word. Well, the answer is ‘No’. So is it a new technology that changes the way people enjoy a film, just like 3D and IMAX? Well…the answer is still ‘No’. It is just a film which used ‘traditional ways’ in filming, but I assure you it would inspire your sense of smell.

About the Film

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is a German 2006 thriller film directed by Tom Tykwer, written by Andrew Birkin, Bernd Eichinger and Tykwer and starring Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood and Dustin Hoffman. It is based on the 1985 novel Perfume by Patrick Süskind. Set in 18th century France, the film tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), an olfactory genius, and his homicidal quest for the perfect scent.


According to wikipedia, in box office, the film was a financial success, especially in Europe, earning $135,039,943 worldwide. In 2007 the film was released on DVD and HD DVD, and later in Blu-ray. The DVD sold 300,000 units in its first 14 days of release in Germany and sold 600,000 units by May 22, 2007. As of May 15, 2009, 1.15 million DVD and Blu-ray units of the film have been sold in the country. In the United States, 387,520 DVD units have been sold as of the latest figures, translating to $7,547,755 in revenue.

History Background

Mankind started to make perfume since the time of ancient Egypt. Ancient Roman and Arab had made further improvement of the manufacturing craft. In the 14th century, this very technology first came to Europe. During the Renaissance, perfume was mainly used by the wealthy people and the high-born people to cover smells after using the toilet. The fund provided by the wealthy and nobility was a key to the creation of the perfume industry in the western world.

In 18th century, using perfume became a fashion in Europe. As Paris was the largest city in Europe at that time, the demand of perfume might also be the largest. In the film, there're several scenes showing the fever of perfume, even a humble corner shop would attract crowds because of the unique perfume it sold,which reproduce history facts.


Even today, we still call Paris as ‘The City of Perfume’, and we can count out lots of famous Paris perfume brands. A lot of people would like to put perfumes on their shopping lists as souvenirs if they have the chance to sightsee Paris.


But in fact, the truly ‘World’s Capital of Perfume’ is Grasse, a small town in the south of France.


Grasse is a warm place with plenty of water, located in the mountains, but only 20 km from the seaside. In the film, there's one scene showing the spectacle of Grasse at that time, surrounded by mountains, with large lavender fields outside the town.( Even today, we can also see similar spectacle.)


Due to the superior natural environment, it is an ideal place for planting flowers. The quantity of aromatic plants grown in Grasse is not the most, but the quality is the best. The massive spice plants grown in Grasse have provided with massive high quality raw materials for the perfume industry.


Many “noses” are trained or have spent time in Grasse to distinguish over 2,000 kinds of scent. The traditional crafts of making perfume have been practiced and improved in Grasse. Thus Grasse becomes a hallowed place for all the perfume makers, as it is said in the film, 'The Rome of scents, The Promised Land of perfume'.


The story of the film is just set on such background. Paris and Grasse are the two main stages.

Essential Oil

The film is called ‘Perfume’, because the leading character is a perfume maker, and he reached his ultimate goal through the way of making perfume. But if someone changes the title to ‘Essential Oil’, I would not oppose. Not only because in those days, perfume was made up of essential oils (which means the leading character needed his ‘essential oils’ first to make his perfume), but also because the two classic ways of making essential oils——Distillation and Enfleurage are the key of the main plot. The film leaves the perfume formulas as a mystery, but focuses on revealing the very secret of essential oils.


What are essential oils?

Essential oil is the very soul of a plant.

It is called oil but is not simply oil. Essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing organic matters of complex aroma compounds which are generated by photosynthesis. These organic compositions of an essential oil play important roles in the growth of the plants: adjuster of the temperature and prevention of disease, also protection from bacteria and germs violations.

Essential oils are derived from sections of plants. These sections include: flowers, leaves, berries, seeds, peel, bark, resin, wood, root, rhizome, and so on.

Why use essential oils?

Essential oils are used in perfume manufacturing simply because they preserve the scents of the plant.

Essential oils are also used in Aromatherapy because those compounds which are good for plants are also believed to be good for people. According to Wikipedia, two basic mechanisms are offered to explain the purported effects. One is the influence of aroma on the brain, especially the limbic system through the olfactory system. The other is the direct pharmacological effects of the essential oils. While precise knowledge of the synergy between the body and aromatic oils is often claimed by aromatherapists, the efficacy of aromatherapy remains unproven. However, some preliminary clinical studies of aromatherapy in combination with other techniques show positive effects. Aromatherapy does not cure conditions, but helps the body to find a natural way to cure itself and improve immune response.

Another widely use of essential oils nowadays is in the skin care products. The molecules of essential oils are extremely small, thus could be easily absorbed by skin. It is said that essential oils have specific effects in moisturizing and fading fine lines. Thus they're considered as good skin care components.

There're two IMPORTANT tips of using essential oils:

  • DILUTED BEFORE USING. Essential oils are at high concentration. Direct contact with skin would be harmful. (Although some certain kind, such as tee tree and lavender, can be smeared in a small spot.) They are usually diluted with carrier oils (such as olive oil and jojoba oil) before using.
  • DO NOT USE TOO MUCH. Some components of the essential oil are considered similar to human estrogen. Because the molecules are extremely small, these ingredients will enter the body microcirculation. Excessive use of essential oils may damage the body's own hormone balance, causing body disorder or even disease. It is as well not encouraged to use single same kind of essential oil every day.

How to make essential oils?

Distillation and Enfleurage are the two main technologies of making essential oils. After seeing the film, I believe you must know them well. However I would like to briefly introduce them a little more.








Cold Enfleurage


Hot Enfleurage


Essential Oils in the film

I will list some main essential oils mentioned in the film, and talk about them a little more.


'The Queen of Essential Oils', that's what people call rose oil.

In the film, the Italian perfume master (Dustin Hoffman) uses roses to show the leading character how to distill essential oil. Just as he said, 'ten thousand roses to produce one single ounce of essential oil',showing the preciousness of rose oil.






In the film, when (Alan Rickman) suggested curfew, other merchants strongly fight against this idea, because ‘jasmine can only be picked before dawn’.







The head chord contains the first impression lasting a few minutes before giving way to the heart chord, which is the theme of the perfume, lasting several hours, finally, the base chord, which is the trail of the perfume, lasting several days.


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