Daguerrotype Movie Review
Written by Angry Scholar
Released by Under the Milky Way
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Catherine Paillé, and Eléonore Mahmoudian
2016, 131 minutes, Not Rated
Released on November 7th, 2017
Tahar Rahim as Jean
Constance Rousseau as Marie
Olivier Gourmet as Stéphane
Daguerrotype is the (evidently misspelled) story of Jean, a young man who starts a new job as assistant to the eccentric photographer Stéphane. Stéphane lives in a rambling old mansion, and photographs models—primarily his daughter Marie—using the eponymous daguerreotype process (note the extra “e” in there). This is a long, laborious process that requires the model to remain perfectly still for an extended period, sometimes an hour or more. When Jean starts his new gig, he notices the toll the process seems to take on Marie, and how uninterested Stéphane appears in everything besides his work. But this being a scary movie, he forges ahead, helping Stéphane load the giant glass plates that serve as “film,” arranging shots with a torturous contraption that holds the model still, and developing the images.
Things plod slowly on, with beautiful colors and camerawork and relatively little forward-moving narrative, until a spark of romance develops between Jean and Marie. Marie, long stuck at home with her crazypants father, has decided to take a job at a greenhouse in Toulouse, and balks at the looming conversation with her father, who’s come to depend on her. Meanwhile, she continues to serve as his model, becoming increasingly lightheaded after each shoot.
Toward the middle of the film, things take a strange turn. Marie falls down a flight of stairs and is apparently badly hurt. Stéphane is overcome with grief, convinced that she has died. Jean loads the unresponsive Marie into his car and rushes toward the hospital. On the way, Jean somehow loses control of the car and runs off the road. When it comes to a stop, Marie has vanished. Jean wanders back along the road a short distance, calling for her. Finally, as he’s about to drive off, he sees her emerge from the darkness beside the road. She seems weak, but her wounds are gone. Jean’s horror movie alarm system seems to malfunction here, as this fails to raise any red flags, and he drives Marie back home, where he puts her to bed.
From this point on the movie feels very different. Marie and Jean’s relationship intensifies, and she moves into his apartment. Jean tries to convince Stéphane to sell his land, which is worth millions, having figured out a way to scam his employer out of a hefty sum. Stéphane descends into a pit of alcoholic despair, haunted (literally, it seems) by the image of his dead wife, even as Jean plans his new life with Marie.
I don’t know what to do with Dageurrotype. I want to like it. It has beautiful scenery, competent (if rather one-dimensional) acting, and some great imagery and camerawork (to my untrained eye, anyway). But it suffers from an excruciatingly slow pace, a cast of largely unsympathetic characters, and a second act that doesn’t seem to connect meaningfully with the first. The role of daguerreotypy is minimal at best, and its significance is never really explained. Is the bizarre, demanding process somehow to blame for the ghostly goings-on? Not only is this never explained, it’s never addressed. And the “twist” ending is not a twist at all and doesn’t bear the lingering treatment it gets. Especially disappointing is the film’s pedigree. Kiyoshi Kurosawa also directed the awesome Sweet Home, which remains one of my favorite horror films. I had high hopes for this one, but unfortunately it doesn’t deliver. (Kurosawa directed the far-from-awesome Creepy, too, which should perhaps have primed me for disappointment here.)
In the end Dageurrotype isn’t really worth the two hours and change it demands. It’s pretty to look at and reasonably intelligent, but feels scattered and unfinished. Worst of all, it’s boring, which is a high crime for horror. Give it a pass, unless maybe you’re studying French and can’t afford Rosetta Stone. Or you could do what I do and just endlessly repeat those random French lyrics from The Little Mermaid. “Ah mais oui, ça see'est toujours delish!”