Daguerreotype Review (Aka: Le secret de la chambre noire)
When an assistant (Tahar Rahim) to a daguerreotype photographer (Olivier Gourmet) falls in love with the latter’s daughter (Constance Rousseau) the relationship mirrors the art form as love and pain combine.
Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa has made a name for himself with his horror films, and may possibly be the biggest international name in “Japanese horror” today with films like “Cure”, “Pulse” and “Creepy”. This time around, he goes in a most unexpected direction: he is working with a French-Belgian cast in their language. Does Kurosawa speak French? How did this collaboration come about? It is most unusual.
Regardless, Kurosawa’s use of murky imagery translates well to Europe, and blends with the themes explored here. The costumes are exquisite, evoking the Victorian Age and reminds one of classic literature, such as the works of Oscar Wilde. The daguerreotype of course adds to this, as the images it creates are synonymous with a forgotten time. This is the first film I have seen that makes such a photographic device or technique the centerpiece and is a nice throwback when other films are moving into the future and exploring the horror of technology.
The cast is composed of well-rounded and experienced professionals. For American audiences, however, the most recognizable face will be Mathieu Almaric, known for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (2007), “Quantum of Solace” (2008) , and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014), among many others. While it may be oversimplifying things, generally when you see Almaric’s name attached you know you have stumbled on something special. This is no exception.
Kurosawa, as usual, spends much of his time building an atmosphere. Although the film has horror elements, there are no killers ready to jump out at any moment Instead we have an almost oppressive, gloomy isolation of a small family on a large estate that is more dead than alive. The camera, despite creating beautiful images, requires the model to go through an almost tortuous process in order to capture a perfect photograph. The “horror” is largely in tone and emotion rather than anything explicit.
Andrew Barker says the film “demands a substantial degree of patience from its audience without fully paying it off.” Indeed, at over two hours, the length and slow pace will be a challenge for some viewers. Kurosawa does tend to run a bit long in his films (“Creepy” was even longer), but this may be the least amount of fright delivered in the time elapsed. For those looking for more scare and less foreboding atmosphere, it will not be as big of a hit as Kurosawa’s earlier successes.
Keith Uhlich interesting suggests the movie “is reminiscent, in some ways, of William Dieterle’s 1948 romantic fantasy “Portrait of Jennie”, in which an otherworldly muse inspires a struggling artist”. Surely this was not an intentional nod on Kurosawa’s part, but Uhlich bringing it up does make one long for the Dieterle film. Perhaps it is deserving of a revisit? Especially considering that Kino Lorber has just released the film on Blu-ray.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “DAGUERROTYPE” will have a VOD Release on all platforms in US & Canada on Tuesday, November 7. (The film can be found on all major platforms including iTunes, Sony, Google Play, Amazon, Microsoft, Vudu, Comcast, Charter, Cox, Vimeo, and various other cable operators.)