Director: Patrice Leconte
Severin Films

Patrice Leconte's THE HAIRDRESSER'S HUSBAND (Le mari de la coiffeuse) is a remarkably simple, yet highly satisfying film. A study of one man's obsession and the memories that helped mold them, HUSBAND is erotic and vastly rewarding. As such, I approached THE PERFUME OF YVONNE (Le parfum d'Yvonne) with a touch of excitement, hoping that lightning might strike twice. Unfortunately, PERFUME failed to grab my senses or linger in my mind the way HUSBAND did. Both films represent a study of one man's fixation and recollections of love lost, however PERFUME fails to hold one's interest, leaving little to be desired if not for a few fleeting glimpses of young French flesh.

Taking its cues from a novel by Patrick Modiano, the majority of THE PERFUME OF YVONNE plays out via flashback as Victor (Hippolyte Girardot) recalls the summer of 1958, during which he meet and fell in love with an aspiring actress named Yvonne (Sandra Majani). The two meet by chance at a posh hotel when Yvonne's dog Oswald -- a massive animal whose lumbering size and black and white coloring lend it to resemble a zebra -- finds Victor's feet to be an ideal place in which to take a nap. The young pair immediately hit it off and it doesn’t take long before their playful flirting turns to heavy petting. Claiming to be of Russian royalty, Victor follows Yvonne like a little lamb stalking Mary on her way to school, spying on the young thespian during the few moments in which the two find themselves apart. Eventually, the relationship moves to the next level and, after some couching by their mutual friend Dr. Rene Meinthe (Jean-Pierre Marielle, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET), Victor moves out of the retirement building he has been calling home and into an apartment with Yvonne. With their passion growing by the hour, Victor sees no end to the ecstasy in which Yvonne can invoke, but Rene’s friendly advice to “never take your eye’s off of her” foreshadows a side of the beauty that Victor may be too loves truck to see.

From my experience, films commonly considered to be arthouse come in only two forms, enjoyable and meandering. YVONNE unfortunately falls into the latter category. While beautiful framed, with luscious set pieces and soft, yet enveloping colors, PERFUME rambles on for far too long, at times appearing to be heading nowhere before ultimately ramming its head into an all too foreseeable climax. It’s obvious from the film's opening scenes, in which it is established that the story unfolding is that of Victor’s recollections, that the love affair between him and Yvonne is destined to fail. Unfortunately, the journey that unfolds fails to engage sympathy or concern. Not once did I expect these two to end up together, so when the inevitable does happen, not only was I not surprised, I simply didn’t care. I was more interested in the post-apocalyptic atmosphere that lit the short winter scenes in which Victor finds himself recalling his doomed love affair.

Perhaps it is unfair to compare and contrast PERFUME with Leconte’s prior and far more pleasing effort, THE HAIRDRESSER'S HUSBAND, but with so much in common it’s hard not too. Both deal with passionate relationships and the loss of a loved one as played out by a minimalist cast surrounded by engrossing scenery and sensual encounters; however PERFUME never seems to find a proper footing, much of which is do in part to the shortcoming of the lead actors. It’s hard to take Hippolyte Girardot seriously as Victor. While clearly grateful of Yvonne’s affection, he somehow constantly manages to come across as aloof and detached, and while I appreciate her disrobing on several occasions, it is no surprise that Sandra Majani did not continue a career in acting, this being her motion picture debut and swan song. The only actor who does leave an impression is Jean-Pierre Marielle, who steals the film as the dandy Dr. Rene Meinthe. Sadly he is greatly underused, with his character never fully embraced, leaving him a mystery as to his proper place in the picture save as that of a chauffer.

Released in the U.K. in 2005 by Second Sight, and again last year as part of a Patrice Leconte boxset, Severin has brought THE PERFUME OF YVONNE stateside with a solid anamorphic widescreen presentation that maintains the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There are a number of small blemishes noticeable in the opening moments but such spotting quickly fades, leaving little to distract from a very attractive picture. Audio is presented in the film's original French language with optional English subtitles. The Dolby Surround stereo track is pleasing with its accompanying English subtitles, which are easy to read and follow. This release's sole extra is Part 2 of an on camera interview titled “Leconte on Leconte” (Part 1 of which is available on Severin’s release of THE HAIRDRESSER'S HUSBAND) with the film's director Patrice Leconte. Clocking in at just under 18 minutes, Leconte discusses his later films, PERFUME included, as well as the disappointment he felt after his film RIDICULE lost the Oscar to KOLJA in the Best Foreign Language Film category in 1997. (Jason McElreath)