A film that may be somewhat disdained by highbrow critics but which carries out its aims agreeably. 


Emmanuelle Devos


Grégory Magne's second feature is a decidedly lightweight work but that is a deliberate choice by Magne as director and chief writer. It is also a film very much in a traditional mould and in view of these characteristics it would not surprise me if it were brushed aside by some critics. My own view, however, is that it should be accepted for what it is, a competently made work which, while in no way memorable, will give pleasure to viewers in search of a French movie of an old-fashioned kind.


The title, Perfumes, is one that relates to the fact that a central figure here is Anne Walberg (Emmanuelle Devos) who has made her reputation by creating perfumes, something only possible because her highly developed sense of smell has given her a nose for such things. However, when she is first seen her life has changed due to a temporary loss of smell a few years earlier which had nevertheless led to her being sacked from her prestigious post. She still has an agent (Pauline Moulène) but now makes a living using her nose as before but in different and less notable fields in which her talent can be of help. The other leading character in Perfumes is Guillaume Favre (Grégory Montel), a man who, following a divorce, is seeking custody of his ten-year-old daughter (Zeile Rixhon) and earning money through his work as a chauffeur which he hopes will be enough to pay for a new apartment for the two of them. It is as a driver that he comes into contact with Anne Walberg, a most demanding woman but one whose manner is partly down to her own unease with her life and the absence of any close intimate companions.


It is easy to see where Perfumes is coming from. At the close Anne and Guillaume are not exactly paired off as lovers but you could regard that as a possible eventuality and by then he has certainly transformed her outlook on life. That makes Perfumes close to the traditional romcom in which an initial conflict between the leading characters will ultimately lead to them becoming united. In addition, although no issues of race come into it, the fact that this film revolves around the changing relationship between an imperious, strong-willed woman and her chauffeur inevitably prompts thoughts of Driving Miss Daisy (1989).


On its own terms Perfumes works rather well despite two less surefooted moments towards the end. Earlier Magne has ensured that even if the plot is rather unlikely the right balance is maintained between the humorous touches and characters who without the care taken here might have become totally unreal through the indulgence of exaggerated comedy for its own sake. Consequently, the audience are rooting for a happy ending. However, adding a touch of more serious drama late on (a health crisis) seems not quite in keeping and Magne also seems to be searching for the best scene to close the film without really finding it. Nevertheless, this is the kind of diverting work especially welcome with the pandemic raging: it takes us out of ourselves, has a distinctly Gallic flavour, gives a leading role to an actress, Devos, who, not that often associated with comedy, can bring her acting skills to bear in making Anne credible and features in Montel an actor whose appearance reminds us of Daniel Auteuil in his younger days.


Original title: Les parfums.




Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Grégory Montel, Zeile Rixhon, Sergi López, Gustave Kervern, Pauline Moulène, Lisa Perrio, Sacha Bourdo, Olivier Broche, Paul Jeanson, Irina Solano, Jeanne Arènes.


Dir Grégory Magne, Pro Frédéric Jouve, Screenplay Grégory Magne with Hubert Delattre, Ph Thomas Rames, Pro Des Jérémy Duchier, Ed Beatrice Herminie and Gwen Mallauran, Music Gaëtan Roussel, Costumes Alice Cambournac.


Les Films Velvet/France 3 Cinéma/France Télévisions/OCS/Ciné+-Curzon Artificial Eye.
101 mins. France. 2019. Rel: 21 August 2020. Available in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema. No Cert.