Although widely dismissed during its initial premiere, Daguerrotype, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s first French-language production, finds the Japanese genre master in peak form; the first hour alone fulfills the promise of the director’s formal rigor being transposed to a ghost story in the French countryside. Jean (Tahar Rahim, superb), a pleasant if opportunistic young man, becomes the assistant of Stéphane (Olivier Gourmet), a demanding, volatile photographer. Having exclusively dedicated himself to outmoded methods of daguerrotype photography, Stéphane captures his subjects—chiefly, his daughter Marie (Constance Rousseau)—with an obsessive fervor. Kurosawa’s camera—characteristically cool, distant and precise—infuses the proceedings with a spectral energy, as dust motes filter through ghostly shafts of light and a wooden staircase takes on a foreboding presence. The material does lose its potency by the end, as the film shifts its focus from romantic, horror-infused melodrama (triangulated between Jean’s solicitousness, Marie’s fragility, and Stéphane’s overbearing presence) to the details of a drawn-out real estate deal. Even at its most risible, though, Daguerrotype remains feverishly compelling—a chilly study of percolating grief and doomed romance, and a formalist wonder of diaphanous, ghostly textures.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2017.