PERFUMES

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Gregory Magne

Stars: Emmanuelle Devos, Gregory Montel, Zelie Rixhon, Gustave Kervern.

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Typically Gallic in tone, Perfumes is the sophomore feature for writer/director Gregory Magne following 2012’s L’air de Rien. This offbeat, understated and lightweight, feelgood romantic comedy about second chances is driven by an engaging odd couple dynamic. 

Anne Walberg (prolific French actress Emmanuelle Devos, from Read My Lips, etc) was a leading and highly sought-after creator of high-end perfumes for Dior. But after suffering a temporary loss of her sense of smell, she found that her reputation was tarnished. With the help of her agent Jeanne (Pauline Maulene) she landed more esoteric assignments such as helping to mask offensive factory smells and disguising the smell of tanned leather handbags. The relationship between the pair seems strained though.

She is temporarily assigned a new chauffeur in the dishevelled, down on his luck and recently divorced Guillaume (Gregory Montel, from Call My Agent, etc). Guillaume needs the work so he can afford a larger apartment and gain joint custody of his daughter Lea (newcomer Zelie Rixhon). But he and the haughty and aloof clash at their first meeting. She disapproves of his smoking habit, and he resents being asked to help her change the sheets in her hotel. But Anne senses something in Guillaume and she secures his services as her regular driver. She also begins to teach him about her trade and its secrets. An unlikely friendship develops between the pair, and they eventually change each other’s lives.

Perfumes (aka Le Parfums) has been written and directed by Magne, and his script is light and fluffy, with some sparkling dialogue, and it does give us some interesting insights into the creation of scents and perfumes. His direction is sensitive. But the film holds few surprises as its narrative arc is pretty predictable for anyone who has ever seen a romantic comedy in which opposites attract.

There is some good chemistry between the two leads that elevates the material and adds to its slow building charm. Devos is suitably cold as the humourless and demanding and socially awkward Anne, but she manages to convey her softer and warmer side beneath her cold exterior. For his part Montel brings a gruff charm and awkward humour to his performance and his comic timing is impeccable. There is also some good chemistry between Montel and young Rixhon who plays his precocious daughter, and their shared scenes add to the emotional heft of the film. Gustave Kervern brings a gruff quality to his performance as Guillaume’s boss, but he also finds an unexpected empathy.

★★☆

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