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Swiss backers scent Perfume success

Ben Whishaw in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, based on a novel by Patrick Süskind.

(Europeanfilms)

More than 20 years after Patrick Süskind's Perfume became a global best seller, the story has finally made it onto the big screen – with Swiss financial backing.

The film is released in Switzerland on Thursday.

The billionaire president of Basel football club, Gigi Oeri, has ploughed around SFr10 million ($8 million) into the movie, which at €50 million (SFr79 million) is the most expensive German film ever made.

Speaking at the film's premiere in Munich earlier this week, Oeri, who is named as a co-producer in the credits, said she was more than a little nervous.

"You never know how it's going to turn out... but it's a healthy and happy nervousness," she told Swiss-German television.

Oeri, who is better known in Switzerland for mixing with mud-caked footballers than rubbing shoulders with Hollywood glitterati, became involved in the project through her friend Bernard Burgener.

Burgener is the chairman of Pratteln-based Highlight Communications, which holds a majority stake in Constantin Film, the company that produced Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

Needless to say the deal to bring Oeri on board was clinched at Basel's St Jakob Park stadium.

Also present was the film's producer Bernd Eichinger, whose credits include The Name of the Rose, The House of the Spirits and Downfall, the acclaimed portrayal of Adolf Hitler's last days.

"I know the [Oeri] family very well and Gigi had told me she would love to take part in the production of a movie," Burgener told swissinfo.

"At the time I didn't have anything available but in December 2004, when we were close to the green light for Perfume, we asked her at a match in Basel to be co-producer. She said she loved the book and the same evening she signed a contract," Burgener told swissinfo.

On location

According to Burgener, Oeri has taken an active interest in the project. Of the 67 days spent shooting in Barcelona, Munich and Provence, she was on location for 21 of them.

At the Munich premiere actor Ben Whishaw, who plays the lead role in the film, paid tribute to Oeri's support for the film.

"I think she's wonderful. The film couldn't have happened without her," he told Swiss-German television.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer features a stellar cast, with Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman and British actor Alan Rickman in supporting roles.

The dark tale tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an amoral loner born in 1738 in a Paris fish market who has a remarkable sense of smell.

He becomes a perfume maker and develops an obsession with creating the perfect scent. This, he decides, can only be distilled from young virgins and sees him embark on a killing spree.

15 million sold

The book, published in 1985, was the world's best-selling German novel since Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front and sold 15 million copies.

But Süskind, who is something of a recluse, originally refused to sell the rights to his novel before finally giving in to Eichinger in 2000.

"I think Patrick [Süskind] will see the film at some point – he will probably put on a false beard and a wig so no one recognises him," said Eichinger.

Reviews of the film have so far been varied, with some critics arguing that it has failed to bring to the silver screen Süskind's wonderful evocation of scents and fragrances.

But Burgener disagrees. He says that in the same way as the author's sensual imagery enabled readers to "smell" the book, the film can do the same for audiences through sound and vision.

"In the book, smell is evoked by words and your imagination; in the movie, Tom Tykwer [the director] has tried to do the same in pictures to describe the smell and the dirt of Paris in the 18th century," said Burgener. "From my point of view it's perfect and I hope we have a big success with this."

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

Key facts

German author Patrick Süskind's Perfume was published in 1985.
It went on to sell 15 million copies and was translated into more than 40 languages.The Swiss premiere of "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" took place in Basel on Tuesday.
The film goes on general release in Switzerland on September 14.

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Gigi Oeri

Gisela "Gigi" Oeri grew up in Schopfheim, southern Germany, near the Swiss border. She trained as a physiotherapist and used to be a competitive gymnast.

She is married to Andreas Oeri, whose family control a voting majority in the Roche pharmaceutical concern. She is considered one of the richest people in Switzerland.

Gigi Oeri has been on the board of FC Basel since 1999, becoming vice-president before assuming the presidency in May 2006. She is the majority shareholder in FC Basel.

She opened the Dolls' House Museum housing Europe's largest collection of teddy bears in Basel in 1998.

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