A legend …a perfume

SYNOPSIS written by Arnaud de Lansay and Christian Louis from the original novel by Christian Louis

A quiet village in the Basque Country rooted in Charnegou, a former enclave of lower Navarra.

Lush and protean vegetation, typical houses, an incomparable architecture; the heart of the Basque Country is embodied in this timeless place. It is the heir of rules which are unofficially unquestionable, as they engraved in the marble of the Basque memories.

In this place where nature triumphs, everything is about odors, essential oils, aromas, scents, fragrances…, in a word, everything is about perfume!

Perfumes which are smelt as much as they are felt, some can be described whilst others are inexpressible, perfumes of discord at the heart of harmony, perfumes of scandal…, scents of opprobrium as well as saintliness.

In the enclave of the village and the surrounding area, a stranger rarely claims to make his way though.

In Charnegou one is not dubbed a knight without paying tribute to the local customs, and one accepts to pledge allegiance to them. Here the law of silence is no less formidable than the law of gossip. An obligatory silence against words of steel…

It is precisely at the beginning of this story that the stranger arrives. How can he be named otherwise?

Not content with not being Basque, and moreover of Jewish confession, everything about this man breathes strangeness and ambiguity, as if anything unfamiliar was not enough to worry the village people…

His general appearance is not unlike a Basque‛s, and from far away as well as close up, one could be mistaken. Yet he is a stranger…

His facial expression, both serene and determined, leaves little doubt about his intentions : The man has come as a conqueror !

His eyes are a striking feature. They are a blue-grey color which gives depth and authority to his expression, but also have a sensuality which is almost feline. This fascinates women but makes men put up their guard.

This stranger has come to take, if not to say steal, a plot of land from the country in order to build his alchemist‛s experimental laboratory.

Much more than that ! From now on he is nicknamed “the perfumer” and he shamelessly appropriates all of the flora and fauna scents. He has the natural elements at his disposal and converts them into elixirs or other perfume spirits of which he is the master both in name and in profession.

“After all…” say the more reasonable villagers “we wouldn‛t hold a grudge against someone, even a stranger, for sublimating the natural elements of the region and bringing them to quintessence, which will ensure infl uence, and thus fame…”

“If it were only that!” reply the rigorists…”but the perfumer surrounds himself with very questionable company, as well as doing his utmost to seduce our women !” Since his arrival the man has not stopped having endless conversations with Rachel, the sharpclawed keeper of the old Jewish cemetery.

This woman is a living memory of the Spanish Jew diaspora which took place in the 17th century under the duchy of Gramont. Many think she is mad, others are sure that she engages in witchcraft…! Here three small flashbacks will illustrate and enrich the historical accounts, alluded to between Rachel and the perfumer.

A first flashback takes us back to the time when the Duke of Gramont, governor of Lower Navarra, welcomed eighty-four Jewish families who had been driven out of Spain by Isabel the Catholic. The Duke is an ambitious, calculating and intelligent man, and he knows how to take advantage of the industrious and hard-working Sephardic community in order to promote the riches and fame of his kingdom. There is one man in particular who stands out from the others.

His name is Isaac Zev Lev.

As an apothecary, master glover and vinegar maker, the man has a know-how and skill not to be matched in the creation of perfumed, healing and even aphrodisiac elixirs. The Duke is a great hedonist and he soon cannot do without them.

As a reward, he gives a status to the Jewish community, which was a privilege at that time. Isaac Zev Lev becomes the paragon and notably receives the title of Master Perfumer. Unfortunately the Duke is far from being the philanthropist that me makes himself out to be…

In the second fl ashback he is ever more tyrannical. He exhorts Isaac Zev Lev to make more and more perfumes and drives him to exhaustion. All the while the Duke is using his master‛s privileges to have a relationship with Esther, the apothecary‛s own wife…! We also discover the Duke‛s hatred of another community: wolves !

This supposedly satanic breed becomes the warhorse of the Duke and he wants to exterminate them right down to the last one.

In order to do that he has his henchman make dreadful hook traps which fool the wolves caution and lead them to a long agony.

A sadistic pleasure which borders on a vice for the Duke. A vice which the man soon cannot do without… A third flashback illustrates how the Duke‛s lewd love affair coupled with a growing and murderous passion for wolves will make Isaac Zev Lev – himself a great lover of wolves- a premature victim of sadness and despair.

The master perfumer is buried in the Jewish cemetery, and in his coffi n a she-wolf‛s skin is thrown over his lower abdomen…

Let us come back to the encounter between the unusual perfumer, which certain complaisant Basques have nicknamed “Usain Ona” meaning “The nice smell”, and the formidable and feared Rachel. Here Rachel doesn‛t only represent memories, she is a legend…

A controversial, mocked and criticized legend which the tormented woman tells – maybe too much – to anyone who will listen…

For more than three centuries, that‛s to say a little while after the death of Isaac Zev Lev, legend has it that on the nights with a full moon a huge and majestic blue-eyed grey wolf sneaks silently around the tombs in the Jewish cemetery.

The wolf heads for Isaac Zev Lev‛s grave, and for a few minutes it has a ritual and metaphysical conversation with the ghost of the former community leader.

The rare villagers who consider believing this woman‛s story – which Rachel maintains that she saw with her own eyes – soon pronounce their verdict : Rachel is doing business with the devil through her unnatural embraces with the animal in question.

Usain Ona, the perfumer, doesn‛t need to be convinced. A premonition of what was waiting for him as he made his way towards the village comes to his mind, like cartography of his destiny…

A glint appears in the man‛s eyes at Rachel‛s mention of the animal‛s reincarnation; accounts which do not seem to surprise or disturb him in any way. During his visits to the cemetery, the mimicry between Usain Ona and the visiting wolf increases and become more refi ned, until reaching the limit of ambiguity.

The perfume of the grey wolf, which he declares that he wants to create, certainly carries his footprint…

The perfumes created by the blue-eyed stranger are immensely complex, rich, and refi ned. They are elaborated according to ancestral alchemical formulae, which make much more than perfumes.

Elixirs of power and seduction, charm potions of infl uence or passions, nebulous decoctions of ethereal forces, when the spirit descends on the perfume, in order to take possession of it…

The village priest is not fully aware of the pact made between Rachel and her accomplice with regard to the lupus… A Rabelaisian and larger than life character, who is as crafty as a Jesuit, the man claims to be consensual. He preaches peace amongst ethnic groups and rival factions.

Bridging the gap between the past and the present, like Rachel, the wise man of the village is, however, the subject of disturbing speculation.

For even if one accepts his compulsive passion for pike fi shing, in certain remote parts of the Basque country the frequent and unexplained absences of the priest give free rein to rumors of political activities. Their purpose being neither peaceful nor disinterested…

For quite a while there has been an increase in unusual burglaries in the region far beyond the village, particularly in the smart “Saint Tropez” style villas on the Basque coast in Biarritz, Saint Jean de Luz, Ciboure…

Each town has been the target of a particular type of burglary, which have left the super-sleuths disarmed, to say the least…

Considerable pillaging has taken place without infraction and sometimes even with the owners present. Afterwards the latter declare not to remember anything except for a perfume fragrance which is strong, hypnotic, and like a vaporous and treacherous cloud, which plunges you into a trance in an instant ! A mysterious, magical perfume hangs over the whole area and the search is on for the enchanter…!

In spite of the reassuring words of the priest, the perfumer Usain Ona is certainly not surrounded by the most well-liked or highly regarded villagers.

Apart from Rachel and her wolf from the other-world, he has made friends with the craftsman and shepherd Xan, who has a troubled and blurry past.

A few years ago Xan deserted the country to go to Paris, and he maintains that he ran restaurants and fashionable discotheques there. It is said that this was probably done with the help of the Parisian milieu… Yet from that milieu to another, there is only one step…! Even if six thousand kilometers separate them… It didn‛t take much time for a shepherd who is a guide in the Pyrenees mountains and born and bred there, to put the crooks onto…perfume…!

The charmer and seducer Usain Ona also knows how to mix business with pleasure. He doesn‛t choose the baker‛s wife as his mistress, but the wife of a high-ranking magistrate in Bayonne.

A magistrate who is involved in shady business and at a diffi cult time one could easily put pressure on him for some leniency.

After all he has already adjourned a municipal by-law which ordered an extremely symbolic olive tree to be cut down. The Jewish perfumer had taken the initiative to plant the tree in front of his laboratory. The police are investigating…

The wolf‛s presence is becoming more insistent and each week there are reports of yet more sheep devoured. The hunters seem to be getting nowhere, as if they were tracking down a ghost… The age-old fears and hatred are stirred up one after the other… And through the perfume of scandal and crime, everybody is out for their own interests and making the most of what comes their way…

Colorful regional fresco. It is filled with mystery and magic and exhales the most intense passions. These are reunited in a breathless intrigue which constantly caresses the five senses of the spectator.

Translation Vanessa Kingwell

SACD n° 255921
Catégorie : CINEMA
Date Dépôt : 11/10/2012
Date d‛expiration : 03/01/2017
Nombre d‛auteurs : 2
Nom et prénom des deux auteurs :
Arnaud de Lansay : 7 square du Thimerais 75017 PARIS
Christian Louis : 18 Place des Vosges 75004 PARIS