Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, The Cure) has earned quite a reputation for himself within the horror genre. With his latest film, Daguerrotype or Le Secret de la Chambre Noir, he is edging a little out of his comfort zone. It is his first film in French, filmed entirely in France and it is more a ghost story than full out horror.
Young Parisian Jean (Tahar Rahim – A Prophet, Day of the Falcon) does not have much going for him. No job, no girlfriend, no real path in life. That all changes when he takes on an assistant job with photographer Stephane (Olivier Gourmet – The Son, The Minister), who specializes in daguerrotype photos. The job challenges Jean in many ways as Stephane is a perfectionist. Though like many artists Stephane has plenty of issues. One is that he has isolated himself in his countryside mansion after the death of his wife.
Time spent working with Stephane brings Jean in contact with his boss’s daughter, Marie (Constance Rousseau – Simon Killer, Next Year). Jean and Marie fall in love and begins an elaborate plan to try to help the daughter leave her father.
All through the film I couldn’t help but wonder how this film came together. How did this Japanese director come to work with this French/Belgian cast? How did he understand what his actors were saying? Does he speak French? I was a little distracted with all these questions.
Not so distracted as I did not notice all the great period costumes and sets. At times you almost feel like you are watching a Victorian Era film. Or something from a Austen, Bronte or Hawthorne novel. That combined with with the atmosphere Kurosawa builds throughout. One that is gloomy, murky and oppressive. Makes the entire thing feel like something from another time. That even though it is set in the present. Much of this is accomplished through the beautiful cinematography of Alexis Kavyrchine (Give Me Your Hand, A Decent Man).
You have to be patient while watching this one. Nothing happens quickly here. Obsession and love in slow motion. Desire and ambition is in low gear. Despite the slowness there is something about Daguerrotype that keeps you involved. Like all strong directors this film has been put together like a tightly strung classical guitar. A classical guitar that is completely under the control of the maestro Kurosawa. Or is it (more about that later)?
Part of his plan is to keep things mysterious. To accomplish this he keeps everything including the characters at a distance from the viewer. We don’t really get to know them too well. And that serves Kurosawa’s purpose. Or does it (you can see that I have a lot of questions even after having watched the film)?
Though I have to say that for a man who seems in control of every moment weaves a film that is somewhat of a muddle at times. Is he going for film noir, suspense, a Gothic ghost story or a straight up fairy tale. It would all come out in the wash if there was some sort of pay off at the end of it all. Sad to tell you that there isn’t. The film is too long and the underdeveloped story would have been better served as a short film.