Sandrine Kiberlain and Vincent Lacoste star in Nicolas Pariser’s whimsical comedy adventure 

The Green Perfume

Source: Bizibi

‘The Green Perfume’

Dir/scr: Nicolas Pariser. France. 2022. 101mins

French writer-director Nicolas Pariser takes a gentle break in the realms of comedy adventure, following his explorations of political intrigue in respectively conspiratorial and local realms in Le Grand Jeu and Alice And The Mayor. In The Green Perfume, he does something that French directors have been doing since the Hollywood-revering heyday of François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol, tipping his hat to Alfred Hitchcock (a featured role for Chabrol’s son Thomas Chabrol, as a sinister cop, is presumably a fond nod to the French auteur too). But the mix of high-peril tension and character-driven comedy never gels, and this stiltedly self-indulgent whimsy is unlikely to catch on outside France, where it may benefit from the popularity of stars Sandrine Kiberlain and the always amusing (although these days, somewhat over-exposed) Vincent Lacoste.

Pariser tries for a modern French North By Northwest, but he’s pretty much lost without a compass.

The film begins with a silent, glamorous mystery woman (Lucie Gallo) striding into the hallowed sanctum of legendary Paris theatre La Comédie Française, and putting a nefarious plot in motion. On stage, an actor named Vlad (Pascal Rénéric) is in the middle of Chekhov’s Ivanov, when he seizes up and dies; but not before whispering the words ‘Green perfume’ to fellow actor, neurotic Martin (Lacoste).

Before long, Martin – who is supposed to be sorting his divorce papers – is abducted and taken off to a sumptuous mansion to meet a sinister elder statesman figure, not unlike the one played in Le Grand Jeu by André Dussollier, but here given a juicy mastermind twist by art-house doyen Rüdiger Vogler. In a study decorated with comic-book art, the old man gives Martin a lecture on the resurgence of political ideals in the world before returning him to Paris. A little implausibly, Martin, who has more pressing things to attend to, such as a tour with the troupe, decides to do some detective work and visits a comics shop to try and determine which collector’s house he was taken to.

There, he bumps into nervy, disillusioned bande dessinée creator Claire (Kiberlain), who – for reasons the film never remotely makes us believe in – decides to join Martin on a trip to Budapest, where he’s hoping to get to the bottom of the mystery. Things come to a head at a performance of Pierre Corneille’s play L’Illusion Comique, as the French duo searches for a dangerous MacGuffin called ‘Anthracite’; a search hinging on the supposed Hungarian tradition of audience members following the play text during the performance.

Sébastien Buchmann’s photography makes imposing use of the architecture of Brussels, which the action visits en route – notably a modernist EU building and an atmospheric old safe house. But it all starts to flag as Martin and Claire exchange confidences in a bizarre digressive sequence in which she recounts her experience living for years in Israel: references in the script to “paranoid Ashkenazis” establish modern-day Jewish diaspora identity as a theme, but it doesn’t remotely gel with the larkiness of the overall intrigue. Equally irksome is the factor of high-literature artiness, Pariser pretty much leaving us in the dark as to why he’s chosen these particular Chekhov and Corneille plays.

The acting is personable but Kiberlain, as is sometimes her wont, overdoes the manic goofiness, while Lacoste, who’s always good at playing slightly pompous naifs out of their depth, does his patented thing to likeable effect. But the romantic chemistry between the pair isn’t quite credible, feeling like a generic Hitchcockian element forced into the jigsaw. Avowedly paying homage to both the screen maestro and to Hergé’s Tintin adventures, Pariser tries for a modern French North By Northwest, but he’s pretty much lost without a compass.

Production company: Bizibi

International sales: Orange Studio,

Producer: Emmanuel Agneray

Production design: Sébastien Autret

Cinematography: Sébastien Buchmann

Editor: Christel Dewynter

Music: Benjamin Esdraffo

Main cast: Sandrine Kiberlain, Vincent Lacoste, Rüdiger Vogler, Léonie Simaga