Chauffeur Guillaume Favre (Grégory Montel) is on thin ice with his boss Arsène Pélissier (Gustave Kervern) for having racked up traffic violations, so Arsène gives him an assignment with a client he knows to be difficult. Guillaume is both intrigued and annoyed by Anne Walberg (Emmanuelle Devos), who treats him more as an all purpose valet than a driver and who guesses his cigarette brand before reaching into his pocket and chucking his pack out the window. After a rough start, the two become supportive of each other, Guillaume fascinated by her work as a ‘nose,’ a creator of “Perfumes.”
Laura's Review: B+
Writer/director Grégory Magne only has one other 2012 film credit to his name, but his is a name one should seek out going forward. While his basic premise, that of an odd couple who start off combative and end up anything but, is far from original, everything else about this film is an absolute delight. It’s beautifully written, features several unusual locations due to the protagonists’ lines of work and its stars complement each other like champagne and Chambord.
Guillaume, we learn, is going through a divorce and in order to share custody of his 10 year-old daughter Léa (Zélie Rhixon), who he adores, he will need to find larger living quarters, a judge decreeing his 24 meter studio not appropriate. He is, therefore, very reliant on maintaining his income. Anne is a bit of a misanthrope whose past complete loss of smell cost her her job with Dior where she created fragrances like J’Adore. She regained her sense but not her stature and now her agent, Jeanne (Pauline Moulène), cobbles together jobs which Anne mostly disdains like masking the belching fumes of a factory or recreating the smell of a cave for a tourist attraction.
It is when Guillaume drops Mlle Walberg off after their first overnight outing and gives her a talking to about her expectations and lack of appreciation that the ice cracks. He – and Arsène – are surprised when she requests him, and only him, for her next trip, one on which he isn’t even required to drive. She begins to ask him to analyze smells and encourages his natural ability. He begins to stand up for her, asking for and getting double her fee from a luxury purse maker demanding an unusually fast turnaround. She also advises him on Léa’s birthday which turns out not at all what he’d planned yet absolutely magical. And even though Magne’s premise might be as old as cinema, if you think you know how he’ll resolve everything, guess again!
Devos is one of the great French actresses and her Anne is one of her most alluring characters – mysterious, somewhat arrogant, somewhat sad with hidden depths of humanity. I am unfamiliar with Montel, a type of Everyman yet one who quickly gets us in his corner. Not only is he an incredibly good foil for Devos, but his work with young Rhixon, also top notch, charms. The film also stars Sergi López, whose character is mentioned early and whose surprise appearance in the third act is one of this film’s many assured yet unexpected moves.
What can one say about a movie that will forever equate the smell of freshly mown grass with ‘Carnage!’ “Perfumes” is an all around winner.
Robin's Review: B+
Guillaume (Gregory Montel) is a driver for a limo company, but his bad driving record may cost him his job and visiting rights with his young daughter. Anne Walberg (Emmanuelle Devos) is a perfumer who lost her very special “nose” and struggles to get it back. She is also demanding and very hard to get along with and needs a driver. These two, when they finally unite, will become an extremely odd odd couple in “Perfumes.”
Their first meet, as employer and employee, gets off to a rocky start with Anne demanding that Guillaume do her biddng far beyond his job title – and he cannot smoke in her presence. But, he soon realizes, with Anne’s help and guidance, that he too has a “nose.” From here, the kindred though very different spirits take on a relationship that becomes an unusual and delightful partnership.
Writer-director Gregory Magne brings us a story where there are no life and death battles, no angst (well, a little), no shootouts and no mysteries to unfold. What we do have is a very special two-hander that joins the needy chauffer – if he loses his job, he loses custody of Lea (Zelie Rixhon) – with the reclusive lady who lacks social manners but is a genius at what she does – smell and, most important, the ability to recreate those smells. She needs, we soon learn, to recapture her lost talent and become a respected perfumer again.
So what is the result in this joining of the Gallic odd couple? We get a genuinely nice movie (and story) about two people, each dealing with her/his own life struggles. Guillaume, divorced, adores his daughter and will do whatever he must to be able see and be with Lea. Anne, once a master perfumer, had lost her special “nose” and now must take whatever jobs she can.
“Perfumes” belongs to its two stars and both actors fill their roles completely. The chemistry between Emmanuelle Devos and Gregory Martel is both palpable and charming. The dual arc of characters is satisfying, follows its own path and is never clichéd.
This film is available virtually from 3/3/21-3/28/21 as part of the Boston French Film Festival – tickets available here.