Leave it to Cannes to come out with a comedy as bizarre as Nicolas Pariser’s The Green Perfume! This French film frequently left me both puzzled and perplexed. After a mysterious murder occurs on stage during a performance of la Comédie-Française, Martin (Vincent Lacoste, Lost Illusions) comes under suspicion of being involved thanks to being a member of the acting troupe. There are no signs of forced entry, with all roads pointing to an inside job. Made all the stranger, in his dying breath, the victim whispered an ominous message in Martin’s ear: “Green Perfume.”
Martin is forced to go on the run with the help of Claire (Sandrine Kiberlain), a cartoonist in the midst of a book signing. Transforming The Green Perfume into something of a road trip film, screenwriter Nicolas Pariser mashes together these two wholly different characters. In my opinion, the problem is that as the leads, neither Martin nor Claire are particularly all that interesting. Martin still remains worried about his impending divorce, and Claire stays pressed about her sister’s attempts at setting up a family dinner. At one point, Martin distastefully compares his anxiousness to “being taken to Auschwitz.” How and why are we expected to care about the stakes as viewers when the characters themselves don’t even appear to take them seriously?
The most fascinating element, naturally, is the entity that is known as “The Green Perfume.” Earning the film its namesake title, this secret underground organization is said to control discourse on Twitter and all the inner workings of the Internet, as well as all facets of fake news. Being caught in the crosshairs of a committed hitwoman feels like small potatoes next to the alleged largeness of this shadowy entity. Built up through various dialogue, there is too much telling and not enough showing.
Certainly, the light and whimsical tone is able to keep The Green Perfume from feeling stale, but that doesn’t do the meandering mystery any favors. That it ends up feeling silly and drawn out only adds to the disappointment. Perhaps if the ending was less underwhelming, I would not be left with quite as sour of a taste in my mouth. For French cinema fanatics, one can do better than the questionable weirdness of The Green Perfume.
The Green Perfume screened at 2022’s Cannes Film Festival.