There isn’t a great movie about perfume; yet. There is a great movie which features perfume prominently. As of now 2014’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is the best depiction of fragrance on the silver screen.
The movie was the eighth directed and written by Wes Anderson. Mr. Anderson has become one of the most reliable stylist auteurs working in movies. All his movies are multi-layered delights. The Grand Budapest Hotel works as a fractured non-linear tale told via time jumping.
It opens with a reporter meeting the owner of the titular edifice, Zero, in 1968. He wants to know how he went from lobby boy to owner. Zero tells the story beginning with his hiring in 1932. The man who hires him is Monsieur Gustave H. He is the majordomo of the hotel in its heyday. In control of everything from his appearance to his guests needs.
The important part of his appearance is his own signature perfume L’Air de Panache. People know where he has been if they smell it in the air. After one harrowing experience in the movie the first thing he asks for is some L’Air de Panache.
This is the depiction of the concept of the “signature scent”. It has never been depicted in a movie as well. For Gustave H it is part of who he is. He allows fragrance a piece of his personality to present to the world. When he has been deprived of it, he wants it.
For most who wear perfume this concept is what draws them to it. To have a scent which speaks to the world around you. I would say it is a piece of the popularity of artisanal and niche perfumery. That desire to find a scent which presents the way you see yourself to others.
While I don’t have any single perfume which I would consider a signature. I do have perfumes which fit specific occasions communicating the way I am feeling.
For weekend outings Thierry Mugler Cologne or Beth Terry Mare are the fragrance equivalent of jeans and t-shirt. When I am asked to something more formal Clive Christian C or Tom Ford Noir de Noir always seem perfect underneath a tux. I can’t reduce the wide world of perfume down to one single choice. It is too wonderful to me for that.
What The Grand Budapest Hotel does is depict how the right scent makes the person.
Postscript: In the movie L’Air de Panache did not exist. The bottles were filled with water. By the time of the World Premiere Mr. Anderson turned to perfumer Mark Buxton to create an actual version. It was given out as gifts to the cast and crew at the premiere.
When I was a child going to the movies was an event. You had to buy tickets in advance, you had assigned seating and there were intermissions. These were for the special movies shot in CinemaScope or Cinerama and projected on massive curved screens. It was the great-grandfather of IMAX. During those days the movies had multiple stars in them and the movie posters would have pictures of all of their faces. Movies like ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World’ or ‘Grand Prix’ are examples of this kind of event movie full of popular stars. As I walked by the poster for the new movie by director Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel, I was reminded of those days.
The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the story of Monsieur Gustave H. during the year 1932 in the titular edifice located in the fictional country of Zubrowka. Ralph Fiennes plays Gustave as a man completely in control of everybody and everything in the hotel. Young Zero asks to become The Lobby Boy and it is through his narration, as an older man, the events of the movie unfold through a number of chapters. One of the best things about Gustave is he has a signature fragrance he wears called L’Air de Panache. It crops up throughout the movie as people use it to know that Gustave has recently walked by and in my favorite scene the only thing he really gets upset about not having at hand after an incarceration.
The movie shows Gustave as a companion to elderly women who also must be blonde. The movie revolves around one of these; Madame D, played by Tilda Swinton almost unrecognizable under the makeup used to age her. After her latest visit she passes away after she returns home. Gustave finds out at the reading of the will she has bequeathed him a valuable painting ‘Boy with Apple’. Fearing the family will not let him have this he takes the painting and leaves. This starts the caper aspects of the bulk of the film as the consequences of taking the painting play themselves out. Throughout the movie there is a very breezy frenetic feel which does seem a lot like those old wide-screen comedies of my youth as another current actor makes a cameo and leaves. What sets it apart is the framing sequence where an author hears the story from the older Zero in which we see The Grand Budapest Hotel itself, in 1968, as an aging blonde dowager. No matter how successful Zero’s life has been he cannot let go of this original love of his no matter whether she is showing her age.
I found The Grand Budapest Hotel to be a return to those old caper comedies. But through the lens of a very talented filmmaker in Mr. Anderson who allows a bit of pathos in the end to draw a tear, while wearing a smile, it has a very modern indie feel to it. To use a perfume analogy it is like the Nouveau Retro creations we are getting of defunct perfume houses. Completely feeling like a throwback but with modern flourishes.
As for the perfume spoken about within the movie it didn’t really exist until a few months ago for the premiere. Perfumer Mark Buxton created L’Air de Panache and it was given to the cast and those at the World Premiere of the movie. When I sniffed it at Esxence it also felt like something one of the better dressed gentlemen at those event movies of my youth might have worn.