×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Daguerrotype’ (Le Secret de la chambre noire)

With:
Tahar Rahim, Constance Rousseau, Olivier Gourmet, Mathieu Amalric, Malik Zidi. (French dialogue)

For his first French-language film, Japanese horror auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa journeys to the land of cinema’s birth with a tale centered around one of the earliest forms of still photography: the daguerreotype. A 19th century apparatus that captures images on a silver plate, the daguerreotype camera requires the sitter to remain absolutely motionless for a punishing span of time, and that process ends up being an unfortunate metaphor for the film itself, which demands a substantial degree of patience from its audience without fully paying it off. Heavy on moody atmospherics yet fundamentally inert, “Daguerrotype” (Le Secret de la chambre noire) never quite comes into focus.

Most famous Stateside for his seminal 2001 J-horror film, “Pulse,” Kurosawa is an expert at establishing a mood of placid unease, and that gift is on display in the opening stretches of this film. Jean (Tahar Rahim), an underemployed young Parisian, arrives at an enormous yet dilapidated mansion on the outskirts of the city for a job interview where he appears to be the only applicant.

Despite — or rather because of — his lack of photographic experience, he’s hired to be an assistant for Stéphane (Olivier Gourmet), a solemn, disillusioned former fashion photographer who has assembled an elaborate daguerreotype setup in his basement, believing his life-sized silver-plated images to be the only true form of photography.

The only model who can withstand the strain of posing perfectly still for hours on end — assisted by a steel back-support contraption that resembles a medieval torture device — is Stéphane’s daughter Marie (Constance Rousseau). Beautiful, and impeccably put-together aside from her disconcertingly twitchy eyes, Marie’s relationship with her father has unnerving undertones of sadism, as he pushes her for longer and longer sessions. She longs to escape the pervasive gloom of her father’s house, and clearly sees Jean as a window out.

Meanwhile, Stéphane’s grip on reality has become alarmingly tenuous, and he’s prone to seeing visions of his perfect former model — his wife — who died a few years earlier. As Jean gets more deeply involved in his boss’ practice, he’s roped into a very low-key conspiracy at the behest of Stéphane’s colleague (Mathieu Amalric) and a conniving real estate developer (Malik Zidi), who want to convince Stéphane to sell his house. With Jean now acting as a sort of double-agent, it seems only a matter of time before whatever supernatural undercurrents are circulating the house start to touch him, too.

Kurosawa has set up an intriguing batch of themes here, from the diffuse hints of a ghost story to the unspoken idea that Stéphane’s quest for artistic purity is slowly sapping the life-force from his subjects. He also gives us plenty of time to percolate in the sunless setting, shooting long, wandering takes as the house reveals ever more corners and oddly-angled staircases. Yet it’s well over an hour into the two-hour-plus running time before any of the film’s narrative wheels start to get moving, and never do they gain much momentum. Rather than building tension and opening up new layers as it goes, “Daguerrotype” reaches a peak somewhere in the middle and then starts to steadily deflate.

The cast acquits itself well throughout, though Kurosawa’s insistence on holding his characters at arms-length from the audience keeps them from fully connecting. Well designed and interestingly shot, “Daguerrotype” is always engaging to look at, but much like Stéphane’s joyless photo sessions, it’s all just too cloistered and obsessed with fastidious details to let in enough light.

Film Review: 'Daguerrotype' (Le Secret de la chambre noire)

Reviewed at Wilshire Screening Room, Los Angeles, August 29, 2016. (In Toronto Film Festival -- Platform.) Running time: 131 MINS.

Production: A Film-in-Evolution, Les Productions Balthazar, Frakas Productions, Bitters End production. Produced by Michiko Yoshitake, Jérôme Dopffer.

Crew: Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Screenplay, Kurosawa, Eleonore Mahmoudian, Catherine Paillé. Camera (color), Alexis Kavyrchine. Editor, Véronique Lange.

With: Tahar Rahim, Constance Rousseau, Olivier Gourmet, Mathieu Amalric, Malik Zidi. (French dialogue)

More Film

  • Gabrielle Union

    10 Things We Learned at Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit

    Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit, which brought top execs to Hollywood’s NeueHouse on Thursday, covered considerable ground. From cutting through the noise in an oversaturated media landscape to welcoming exciting technology like virtual reality, industry veterans offered insight into what to expect from the marketing world in coming years. Here are 10 things we learned [...]

  • Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces On

    Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces on Flurry of High-Profile Series

    Following “The Name of the Rose”(pictured) and “Devils,” France’s Orange has unveiled four internationally-driven series projects as part of its commitment to step into premium original shows with its film/TV division Orange Studio and pay TV group OCS both of board. Currently in development, the social western “Cheyenne & Lola,” the dance-filled workplace drama “The [...]

  • 'This Isn’t Spinal Tap': Dishing the

    'This Isn't Spinal Tap': Dishing the Dirt on Motley Crue's Surprisingly Dark Biopic

    The new, eagerly awaited Motley Crue biopic, based on Neil Strauss’ best-selling 2001 book, “The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band,” premieres today on Netflix after a seemingly endless 13 years in development hell. Those anticipating “a fun ‘80s music movie,” as Crue bassist Nikki Sixx puts it, will inevitably be stunned [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: Jordan Peele's 'Us' Nabs $7.4 Million on Thursday Night

    Jordan Peele’s horror-thriller “Us” opened huge with $7.4 million on Thursday night in North America. The figure easily topped Thursday preview numbers for “The Nun” at $5.4 million and “A Quiet Place” at $4.3 million and nearly matched “Halloween” at $7.7 million. Projections for Universal’s “Us,” Peele’s much-anticipated follow-up to 2017’s “Get Out,” have been in [...]

  • Beatriz Bodegas on Netflix Original: ‘Who

    ‘Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?’ Producer on New Spanish Netflix Original

    BARCELONA – “Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?” is the second directorial outing from Spain’s Jota Linares (“Animales sin collar”) a Netflix Original premiering on Friday, March 22 in competition at the Malaga Spanish Language Film Festival. Starring María Pedraza, Jaime Lorente, Pol Monen and Andrea Ros, the film is the movie adaptation [...]

  • Beijing Festival Unveils 'Mad Max,' 'Bourne'

    Beijing Festival Unveils 'Mad Max,' 'Bourne,' Kurosawa Screening Series

    The upcoming Beijing International Film Festival will give space to high-profile Hollywood franchise movies with screenings of all films in both the “Mad Max” and “Bourne Identity” series. Classic Hollywood fare will also feature prominently in a lineup that, as usual, features an eclectic grab-bag of titles. The local government-backed festival opens April 13 and [...]

  • J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church

    SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. 'Bob' Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius'

    Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content