Just as some have an ear that gives them perfect pitch, the premiss here is that a nose can be an equally perceptive pallate. Those who can taste a wine and tell you not only the grapes, but which vintage and where the grapes were harvested, make a wonderful parellel to a nose that can detect all the ingredients in a perfume.
However, this wonderful premiss is taken to the extreme - the best nose in the world can follow someone over great lenghts, simply by smelling their scent. If you can suspend your believe here, then the film has a lot to offer, including wonderful period scenery, some fine acting, and a certain degree of mysticism that, while bombastic, seems believable in context.
I'm not here to reveal too much of the plot, just the main point that a young orphan has a sensual/sexual awakening (the sniffing of the female body is interesting and may be considered erotic to some), and wants to capture that experience, via scent, forever. This leads him to apprenticeship to an Italian perfume maker, aptly portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, with a serious bent that has just enough frivilous jovility and a wink in his eye to make his time on screen in the first third of the film worth the price of admission.
Once the orphan learns the trade, Hoffman tells him a legend from ancient Egypt where a scent was found that, when smelled, led to rapture. So our hero, a quiet and offputting gent, goes off in search of the ingredients.
He comes to a city in Provence where they harvest lilac and other flowers, and sniffs out the daughter of Alan Rickman, a burghor of the town. Rickman is solid as always, especially when he is portraying aristocracy.
The dead bodies of young women begin to appear about town, and we're witness to what amounts to alchemy, until the final scenes where the illusive, perfect perfume is unleashed.
There were times when I thought I was watching a non-musical version of Sweeney Todd, and almost wish the lead actor to have been J. Depp. Overall I enjoyed much of what was presented here, although the pacing lagged in places, especially during the climatic scene where the tension of the situation seemed to lose steam because of it.
There are a couple of continuity problems that occure in the last third; to wit: when the boy leaves the town to chase after Rickman and his daughter, he rushes out with nothing but the clothes on his back, leaving behind all his vials of ingredients, only to later be seen with all his vials and a small cooker.
Also, when he is later caught and tortured, he somehow manages to conceal a vial of perfume from the gendarmes - not likely.
Regardless of this, and a somewhat wooden portrayal by Ben Whishaw in the lead, this film has enough going for it for me to recommend it.