Dir.: Nicolas Pariser; Cast: Sandrine Kimberlain, Vincent Lacoste, Rüdiger Vogler, Léonie Simaga, Arie Worthalter, Jenna Thiam, Pascal Rénéric, Thomas Chabrol; France 2022, 104 min.
A really seductive title that fails to live up to expectations, Le Parfum Vert tries hard, perhaps too hard, to revive Hitchcock mysteries in the style of Jacques Rivette. And while the French New Wave master would be delighted with the central pairing – two Jewish oddballs – along with the theatre setting; Nicolas Pariser is less successful when it comes to the modern version of Hitchcock: the plot is, to say the least, weak, setting aside the simplistic political plotline.
Martin (Lacoste), an actor, is witness to the onstage murder of his friend Vlad (Rénéric) during Anton Chekhov’s play ‘Ivanov’. In his last breath Vlad implicates the Green Perfume group. Martin, always the hypochondriac, freaks out when it turns out he is the main suspect. Fellow actor Caroline (Thiam) tries to calm him down but Martin is then abducted by a right-wing group with links to Russia, led by the sinister Hartz (Vogler), a cartoonish Austrian. Martin is then released the following morning, and running away from the police, led by detective inspector Louise (Simaga), meets Claire (Kimberlain), a cartoonist and owner of a bookshop, who is hounded by her sister and mother, phoning her in the middle of the night with a link to a Jewish dating agency.
Claire has spent a long time in Israel, she dislikes the snobby French but has to admit Israel is not European any more. Martin, who also spent time in Jewish summer camps, is more obsessed with his health and lack of love in his relationships: he is in the middle of a divorce and as self-obsessed as his new partner. Somehow, Louise catches up with the pair on Martin’s next engagement in Budapest where Corneille’s ”L’Illusion Comique” is on the programme. The Hartz Group will try to get hold of a super disinformation system. The clue to its whereabouts will be triggered by one of the actors who will use the wrong cue – the play is in French, the audience has a Hungarian translation. To find the traitor Claire follows Martin in the hunt, in spite of a bullet wound in her leg, before she too is abducted by Harzt and his men in the Budapest theatre.
Forget the farcical plot, The Green Parfum succeeds largely due to the compelling chemistry of the leads – both lonely and out of luck in love. A Jewish identity gets you only so far, and both have not really grown up and still hankers after ideas which are now on the scrap heap. Like Hansel and Gretel, they have lost their way home, only existing only in their imagination. Unaware of the danger of the real conspiracy, they save themselves by falling in love.
DoP Sebastien Buchmann pictures Paris and Budapest in a nostalgic glow. The chase scenes in the theatre are lively, but Buchmann is (like Pariser) most convincing, when it comes to small details, like the observations on the train when the two chases their pursuers – or find a corpse. Every day life is much more exciting than the wildest political plots – particularly when poorly executed. AS
THE GREEN PERFUME | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL