Cannes 2022 Review: An Actor Gets a Part He’d Rather Not Play in the Curious Conspiracy Thriller “The Green Perfume”

As an actor in La Comédie-Française, there’s no doubt that Martin (Vincent Lacoste) has been trained to endure a thousand little deaths on stage, but there’s nothing that can prepare him to witness a real one in “The Green Perfume.” After seeing Vladimir (Pascal Rénéric), the lead of the company’s latest production crumble to the ground, he rushes out on stage to take him into his arms, salvaging the show for paying audiences, but unable to save his friend and colleague, who in fact has some famous last words for him, though for the longest time in Nicolas Parisier’s sly comic caper, they are only known to him.

It’s hard to know who this burden is more unfortunate for – Martin or the rest of the world when these words “Green Perfume” are revealed to be the name of a secretive international cabal intent on sewing seeds of confusion around the globe with mass disinformation campaigns and the only person preventing their largest scale operation to date is the hapless actor. Yet Parisier is less interested in a countdown to doomsday than what it means to hold such a secret and be unable to do much of anything with it, an intriguing starting place towards all kinds of ends in what becomes as much about the mysteries of the heart as much as any others. Reminded in his shock over Vlad that he still needs to sign his divorce papers, Martin ends up quite literally stumbling into a partner in Claire (Sandrine Kiberlain), a graphic novelist who thinks nothing of leaving a book signing after her curiosity is piqued by this strange man in front of her trying to make sense of the past 24 hours.

Though polar opposites in many respects, Claire and Martin both wonder about their place in the world, with the former once a fiery activist tamed by a feeling of indifference towards her and the latter believing a life-long romance isn’t in the cards for him. As they travel from Paris to Brussels to Budapest with the assistance of Louise (Léonie Simaga), a special agent on the hunt for the Green Perfume, the two compliment each other well, even if they don’t necessarily see it themselves, and while they make for less-than-ideal detectives, they bring insights into the case from their respective professions that the proper authorities wouldn’t think of.

Fashioning a laid-back screwball comedy around them, Parisier is able to offer an updated spin in a world where enemies are often unseen and too powerful to even consider taking on, making the pair’s limited comprehension of their circumstances seem like just about anybody fumbling through these past few turbulent years. The occasional mischievous music cue and the unmistakable movie star charms of Lacoste and Kiberlain don’t let you forget what you’re watching, but there’s an underlying reality to “The Green Perfume” that gets under the skin, a keen sense that as much as connection can feel like the greatest thing in the world, it can also be weaponized.

“The Green Perfume” will screen again at Cannes on May 26th at 8:30 pm at the Theatre Croisette and May 27th at 9 am at the Cinema Alexandre III, 4:30 pm at the Cinema Le Raimu and 9 pm at the Cinema Olympia/Salle 8.