Daguerrotype (Le secret de la chamber noire) (2017)

In a French mansion, a photographer is obsessed with reproducing long lost photos taken with the daguerreotype technique of yore.  When he hires a young assistant for his project, things get complicated.

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Catherine Paille, and Eléonore Mahmoudian and directed by Kurosawa, Daguerrotype is a very slow burn of a film that feels more like a drama than anything else.  This being said, there are a few elements that will be surprising if the viewer goes into it completely blind and thus will not be spoiled here.  Having the genre pre-established as anything other than drama will lead into guessing a few of these.  Given the director and his resume, this aspect can be easily guessed.  Here he works in a manner where the characters are given plenty of time to develop themselves and their arcs while the story builds around them.  The writing and directing of the film feel like a proper mix of French and Japanese cinema in a way that is hard to explain but works wonderfully well here.

The acting from the small cast is superb with Tahar Rahim in the lead of Jean, the assistant, giving a performance that is almost subdued.  His presence is, like the rest of the cast really, soft and appropriate for the general feeling of the film.  He gives Jean a gloomy-ness that is perfect while also giving him hope while he works with photographer Stephane and slowly falls for the man’s daughter Marie.  Playing Stephane is Olivier Gourmet who gives his character an underlying sadness, a desperation to cling to the past, that give him an imperative to keep working and stay in the same place at the same time.  His performance guides the film’s tone for the rest of the cast as it all revolves around him even though he’s not the lead per sey.  Playing his daughter, Marie, is Constance Rousseau who is fascinating and captivating to watch.  She plays in subtlety, letting her emotions be barely seen, yet very much there ready to come to the surface.  Her performance is possibly the best of the film and she makes her audience want to see more from her.

Daguerotype is a carefully crafted film that shows an eye for décor and costume, but also an attention to detail that is shown through cinematography by Alexis Kavyrchine.  The images created here keep some darkness to them and use light and shadow in a way that adds mystery and adds to the general gloom feeling and look of the film.  Within those images, the costume designs by Elisabeth Mehu are stunning when it comes to the period reproductions used in the photo set-ups at the center of the film.  These costumes are done with great attention to details and a love for historical accuracy.

Daguerrotype is a beautifully gloomy, superbly acted, extremely slow burn of a film that has a few surprises up its sleep for people ready to see it without knowing a thing about the plot or about which genre it’s in besides drama.  It’s in part a story of desperation and a story of love, one that resonates with characters that feel out of the viewer’s world while still being realistic.  It may be a bit long, but the slowness works for it and its story.  Seeing the daguerreotype process from start to finish is highly interesting, but that may only be an aspect that photographers, photography enthusiasts, and history buffs will be into.  That being said, it’s an integral part of the film and its process making it a needed and integral aspect of the story.  It’s a film that begs to be watched and discovered.