The Perfume of Yvonne (1994)

Forgotten DVDs


24 July 2019| No Comments on The Perfume of Yvonne (1994)     by Sean Chavel


The luscious French erotic drama/reverie The Perfume of Yvonne is a neglected piece by director Patrice Leconte who had revered international success in the 1990’s. How could a film this lovely, this splendid, this classily debauched, been sheltered away from the rest of his filmography? Wonderful films such as “Monsieur Hire,” “The Hairdresser’s Husband,” “Ridicule,” “The Widow of St. Pierre” had embalmed his high reputation for a good ten years run and “The Perfume of Yvonne” was smack in the middle in terms of when it came out. So why did it have an overlooked distribution history?

We’ve always had movies wrapped around the male fantasy of that seemingly unattainable beauty who is perfectly kempt, enchanting, yet ripe for eroticism. What makes this piece superlative is how intuitive it is about how fluttering, how arousing the perfect woman can be to a man. It is sensuously alive, keenly aware of a first brush against a leg, an irresistible smile close-up to you, the bliss of a first perfect kiss, and the ecstasy that comes with immediate sex in the middle of the night because it feels just right to have sex that soon.

The year is 1958, and the man is Count Victor Chmara (Hippolyte Girardot), a self-proclaimed aristocrat who has come upon an extended hotel stay in Geneva to escape draft into the Algerian war; at the hotel he checks for mail under a different name. Are we to assume he is not telling the truth of his credentials?

Jean-Pierre Marielle, left;
Sandra Majani, right.

He meets Yvonne (Sandra Majani, who is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen — hats off to Leconte in his immaculate taste in casting), who is a debutante perhaps, still wayward in her life options. She seems to have not a father but an old mentor (Jean-Pierre Marielle) watching over her interests but the old man is quickly fond of Victor and as a trio they get along, relishing all the leisure pleasures together. Still wayward in her life options, Yvonne is a would-be actress and professional show-off, as demonstrated later during a bizarre fashion-and-auto competition where judges decide which vehicle and passengers are photogenically best in show.

Hippolyte Girardot as Victor Chmara

These are little details and story decoration, it seems — or is there more to what it’s showing? The tactile look, the warm nostalgia of first intense love, the tingly camera movements, all led to me being immediately enamored by this film (Leconte’s “The Hairdresser’s Husband” also has that romantic wallop, per my recollection). “Yvonne” is 90 minutes long and plateaus at bliss maybe before forty minutes are up, which leads us wondering, is there a downfall? Because in the history of movies, when you shoot up to the stars this quickly, story construction demands the fall must be steep.

It’s very clear that Victor wants to give the world to Yvonne, so the suspense has to be, what catastrophic mistake will he make to lose her? (It’s clear from the first few minutes that something dire had happened, because Victor laments much in a vague and mysterious fast-forward, meaning the entire story is a flashback.) Did it have to do with Victor’s lack of honesty? That would be a little trite, and so I promise you, it’s more than that. Yvonne is clearly a woman of perfection to any man with a heartbeat, and so the surprise of the movie, to me at least, had less to do with Victor and more with me discovering that she is… less than perfect. The chintziness of the denouement and some unexplained story facets probably is what led to limited international distribution at the time (and the fact that people at large hate things that are actually sexy), and damn if it didn’t leave me feeling a little empty-handed as well. But that’s the nature of tragedy, leaving you a little empty.

Yet for a film this befuddling, I’m glad I looked past the long OOP history on this title and ponied up lots of dough to purchase a region free import DVD, because something within me says I’ll be returning to this odd and enchanting film sometime again soon.

Justin Aylward, a correspondent from Dublin, Ireland, has handed me his affectionate dedication on the film: “It has become one of my favourites in recent years. As far as films go it’s like a massive Victoria sponge cake. It never lets you down and tastes great with all variety of drinks and in any season of the year

Star Sandra Majani, who has one of the most beautiful faces you will ever see, holds quite a presence in this film. She has the gamine quality of Audrey Hepburn but the stateliness of Grace Kelly. Her plump lips, soft-petaled voice and glorious summer dresses are unforgettable and if the film had become more widely seen these images may have become as iconic as Marilyn standing over the air vent or Elizabeth Taylor and her pearl necklaces. Alas, Majani, who was also a model, never appeared in another film and vanished from the screen. Only her role as Yvonne remains, the aspiring actress who no one could ever know; mysterious but appropriate indeed.

90 Minutes. Unrated but explicit sexuality.


Film Cousins: “Betty Blue” (1986, France); “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (1988); “The Hairdresser’s Husband” (1992, France); “Sirens” (1994).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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