Cinematic Releases: Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Daguerrotype (2017) - Reviewed

The films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa are intersections.  Doomed purgatories where uncomfortable truths are blended with the psychology of the mind, often with horrifying results.  

His latest offering, as well as his first film made outside of Japan, is a slow burn gothic fairy tale out of time.  While the story takes place in modern day France, everything within Daguerrotype is mysterious and antiquated.  Loss is a theme that Kurosawa has explored many times in his fabled career.  Here, the auteur fuses his patient, detail oriented style with an intimate story in which apparitions are far more than restless souls.  

Stephane is a gifted, but obsessed artist who uses an ancient method of photography, capturing his daughter in portraits that remind him of his deceased wife.  His daughter falls in love with his youthful assistant Jean, leading to disastrous consequences.  Many have compared Kurosawa's script to the works of Hitchcock, however, Stephane's crumbling manse, with careful set decoration by Gerard Marcireau evokes a Dickensian atmosphere that persists throughout the film.  The common trope of the outsider intruding on a dysfunctional family is painfully deconstructed over the course of two plus hours in which the narrative framework is mercilessly built around the viewer, to the point that by the time the quietly apocalyptic final act arrives, the viewer is unable to escape.  Where Cure was about obsession and control, Daguerrotype is about exploration.  Most films take great pains to ensure the viewer knows basic facts about the plot.   Kurosawa rebels against this, slowly dolling out clues and information in between creepily mundane activities that enhance the mystery.  

Tahar Rahim (Un Prophete) stars Jean, as a naive assistant who enters Stephane’s house of woe.  His performance is memorable for his complete understanding of Jean's place within Kurosawa's menacing reality.  This is a delicate story, that hinges on the viewer's patience and careful consideration of the clues layered throughout.  Rahim's surrender to the role, a man without merit or flaws, is exceptionable, showing the actor's talent by his refusal to overwhelm in any of his scenes.  He is supported by Constance Rousseau who plays Stephane’s daughter.  Her screen time is purposefully limited, however anytime she is on screen, Rousseau's careful consideration is unbelievable.  This could have been a femme fatale role, or even a more horror focused turn, but Rousseau remains in total synchronicity with Kurosawa's heartbreaking design.  Oliver Gourmet rounds out the cast as Stephane, a self-haunted potentate who lives within a prison of his own guilt.  His scenes with Rahim are outstanding, contrasting the knowledge of age and the courage of youth with perfection.  Gourmet's agony drips off him in every scene, staining the walls and floor of the mansion with self-loathing and regret. 

Tell me I'm beautiful!

Alex Kavyrchine's cinematography has an elusive quality that merges comfortably with Kurosawa's dreamy compositions.  Whether the ghosts are real or not is left to the viewer, but the way in which certain characters are framed is stunning, including a handful of scenes that are genuinely frightening.  Despite there being a few chills present, this is Kurosawa at his most restrained, featuring almost no violence or gore.  The focus is on the interplay between the three principals and this will either entice or repulse, but patience is mandatory, as, with all of his films, Kurosawa is in no rush to get the audience to anywhere quickly.  

I told her she was beautiful then turned her into a picture!
Wizardry, I tell you! Wizardry!

Coming soon to digital on demand, Daguerrotype is an interesting, albeit uneventful film.  Much like in life, tragedy does not announce itself prior to obliterating our lives.  However, hindsight often reminds us, at the worst possible times, that the warning signs were usually there with respect to familial discord.  Fans of Kurosawa who are looking for yet another horror entry maybe disappointed, however if anything, Daguerrotype's somber message is a bleak reminder that loss can be the most terrifying thing of all.  


-- Kyle Jonathan