Release Date: November 7, 2017 (VOD Platforms)
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
MPAA Rating: NR
Runtime: an unnecessary 131 minutes
It would seem like the subject of still-life photography and the reserved solemnity of horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a match made in our wildest dreams, but in practice, the merging of worlds leaves a lot to be desired.
Kurosawa, as evidenced by his limp and aimless French co-production, Daguerrotype [sic], finds himself lost with his style and oblivious to the vacancy of his own creation, struggling to find any form of inertia to propel the hollowed plot forward over an excruciating two hours and ten minutes. It’s difficult to see what Kurosawa initially saw in this project based on the pointed narratives and genre niches of his career up to this point, but while it features a glimmer or two of the atmospheric filmmaking of his horror films, the movie lacks inspiration and direction as a whole.
Like the daguerreotype photos it lavishes over, the film of the same, appropriate name feels like watching someone exposing a silver plate with mercury vapor; it sounds interesting, but it’s a tedious, meticulous, potentially fatal process.
Taking place within the hollow walls of renowned fashion photographer Stephane LeGray’s mansion is his attempt to “give immortality” to his subjects by calling upon the time-consuming photography method that is the film’s namesake, an expensive and arduous Victorian process that has him creating lifelike images out of his subjects.
Thrust into his care is the young Parisian Jean, who becomes the artist’s assistant and romantic interest of his daughter and frequent subject Marie, whose resistance to Stephane’s obsession one would hope would hope would lead to some form of drama or horror, but sadly that never comes to pass. So desperate is Daguerrotype to have some guidance within its milling-about nature that it interjects both a dropped ghost subplot and a land-development narrative into its emaciated main plot, sowing confused boredom instead of something to hold onto to move it forward.
Kurosawa, as sole writer-director of this impassive slough, proves himself directionless when trying to move away from his genre comfort zone, and the resulting film suffers greatly because of it. The bright spots only come from Kurosawa’s formal mastery, which, even when utilized for such plain subject matter, can catch you off guard with some evocative camera shots. Vacancy and isolation are concepts that fueled his pictures for the past two decades, so his direction is never without point on Daguerrotype.
It’s just not particularity fascinating to see subjects as strained archetypes (haunted artist, cloistered daughter), and Kurosawa’s locales of the French suburbs and the worn-down luxury home lack an interesting topography. Moments, such as Stephane chasing the after images of his long-deceased wife from the photos he took around the empty halls of his home speak loudly on Kurosawa’s personal style in this film, but the storytelling is weak. He shows he can inject a disturbing or overbearing mood into the scenes he shoots, but often his known, detached style leaves what little there is in the script more disillusioned and apathetic.
The rest of the film is hard to follow, not because of narrative complexity, but because Kurosawa has distanced himself so far from his characters that it’s a chore to become invested and follow their arcs. The romantic angle between Jean and Marie is seemingly born out of nothing and has the most minute effect on the plot between actors Tahar Rahim and Constance Rousseau without a shred of chemistry.
The aforementioned land development plot point might as well be from another film altogether, and though I hate to rely on a petty, non-specific critiquing, nothing happens in this film that is worth cataloguing here in this review. This was excruciatingly hard to write about – not only because the film gives me so little to work with, but also because of my constant denial of who is responsible for this bore fest.
After the powerful romantic drama of Journey to the Shore and the invigorating horror experience of Creepy comes the black spot of his contemporary career with the personality-free Daguerrotype in a line of succession that that can only be classified as massively disappointing. I remain envious of those who could find something worthwhile to say about this film because, for me, this overly long tribute to blank space left me with nothing to work with.