Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Catherine Paillé, Eléonore Mahmoudian
Starring Tahar Rahim, Constance Rousseau, Olivier Gourmet, Mathieu Amalric, Malik Zidi, Valérie Sibilia, Jacques Collard, Fabrice Adde, Thomas Coumans, Claudine Acs, Louise Pasteau, Bruno Cadillon
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DAGUERROTYPE is a haunting and beautiful little film, inexplicably made by a Japanese filmmakers and set France. Though it is an odd pairing, the film does splice together art and the macabre rather well. It’s not the perfect film. Much like the lengthy process taken to make daguerreotype photographs, this film takes its sweet time getting to its point.
Jean (Tahar Rahim) is an amateur photographer with very little professional experience, which is just what eccentric artist Stephane (Olivier Gourmet) wants because that means the assistant will do as he says without question. Once a famous photographer of fashion models, Stephane has chosen to focus on the outdated process of the daguerreotype which takes a lengthy amount of time and extremely harmful chemicals to create. Secluding himself in his mansion, Stephane pines for his dead wife while taking the occasional job which proves to be strenuous on his models who are required to stand still for at least an hour or more. While picking up the subtleties of creating a daguerreotype, Jean meets Stephane’s daughter Marie (Constance Rousseau) who often models for her father’s photographs and cares for him in his mourning, but longs to leave the mansion and start a life of her own. One night, Jean and Marie get into a car accident, but the couple seem to walk away from the wreck unscathed and find themselves drawn to one another. In hopes to encourage Stephane to sell the mansion and allow Marie to follow her dreams, Jean hatches a plan to convince Stephane that Marie died in the crash. But strange things begin occurring around the house. Stephane begins to see the ghost of his wife walking through the hallways and Marie begins acting strange while hiding out in Jean’s house. Is it all a ruse or are there really ghosts roaming around the mansion?
When DAGUERROTYPE gets rolling it really gets rolling. There are a few scenes that had me on edge, wondering if what I was seeing was photographic illusion or the paranormal, not really trusting the reality I was witnessing, which is just what Stephane and Jean are going through in this very long story. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (who also directed the equally moody and dark PULSE) know how to construct a terrifying scene and lets it really creep up and sink its teeth into you. There are a few scenes like that in this film that will definitely unnerve.
That said, this film (clocking in at two hours and six minutes) could have had about forty five minutes shaved away and I think it would have made for a much more interesting and less arduous view. While I enjoyed the slow pace at times, there are too many instances where we are simply watching people going about their day to day. I think I wouldn’t have minded had we gone into a little more detail about the process of making daguerreotype photos, but Kurosawa kind of breezes through that. Instead, a lot of the film is meanders with long takes of Jean and Marie making love, Marie tending to her precious flowers in the greenhouse, and Jean having numerous backroom talks to try to sell Stephane’s property out from under him. All of the less than interesting aspects of this film seem to be the most interesting to this director and unfortunately, it hurts the film as a whole. As a horror film, DAGUERROTYPE unfortunately fails. It’s well acted, often quite beautiful, and has a few nicely creepy scenes, but there’s way too much time in between them and a predictable ending that makes all of that butt in the seat time spent with this film not really worth it.