ダゲレオタイプの女 「Dagereotaipu no onna」
Running Time: 131 mins.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Screenplay), Cattherine Paille (adaptation) Eleonore Mahmoudian,
Starring: Tahar Rahim, Constance Rousseau, Olivier Gourmet, Mathieu Amalric,
Daguerreotype is the first film Kurosawa has shot outside Japan but the story fits easily into his horror oeuvre which consists of tales where supernatural beings impinge on the vistas of protagonists who we watch undergo crises, their minds unable to correlate events that, once pieced together, provide a shocking revelation for the viewer as we see the main characters are actually morally compromised. The French setting, cast, and crew ably deliver this type of tale in a chilling ghost story light on jump scares and heavy on melancholy and dread as an ordinary man finds himself sucked into a supernatural tale of love and betrayal.
Jean (Tahar Rahim) is a working-class guy with a vague interest in photography. Desperate for a job he applies for many each day and finally stumbles into one as a photographer’s assistant. He heads to a crumbling manor on the outskirts of Paris to work as the assistant for the reclusive photographer named Stephane (Gourmet).
The home is a slightly more up-market version of the mansion seen in Sweet Home but with a few less boarded up windows, cobwebs and dust, but plenty of dark spaces and art around and a very creepy basement. It’s in a state of slight neglect because after the death of his wife, Stephane seemed to lose his will to go out into the wider world. He now lives with his 22-year-old daughter, Marie (Rousseau), an otherworldly blonde who bears a spitting image of her mother.
As Jean works for Stephane, he meets Marie. She poses for her father as he takes photographs of her using the daguerreotype process – models must spend hours standing still with the aid of a metal frame behind their back and limbs to help their keep their body in place while their image is captured. Marie spends hours in this position and the time gets longer with each session. As the strain tells on her, Stephane’s obsession becomes clearer and appears to grow.
As Jean falls for Marie, he discovers that her father’s obsession with taking life-sized daguerreotypes could be connected to resurrecting the spirit of his dead wife. As ludicrous as this sounds the evidence mounts that a supernatural presence is haunting the manor but is this really the case?
This might be his first film shot outside of Japan but there’s little hesitation in how Kurosawa captures life in Paris. While some of his films are hermetically sealed worlds (Loft) or deeply rooted in the past (Sweet Home), there’s a real earthiness to some of the scenes that locate Jean in the real world. A multi-racial group of friends at a pub to watch a football match, discussions about employment, and money worries, redevelopment going on around the mansion, job interviews and cheeky trips to swanky restaurants. The other character benefit from this detail which fleshes everything out as each of the characters has a life outside of the manor, Stephane having to make ends meet with fashion shoots and a few people dealing with grief and death who desire his skills, and Marie with aspirations of becoming a botanist and the job interviews she attends. The story goes slightly awry when property dealings are thrown in but the supernatural story at the centre keeps things on track and the atmospheric build-up is satisfying thanks to the actors and the locations they work in.
His lead actor is Tahar Rahim who got his big-break in film with A Prophet. He is supported by good actors like Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). Indeed, the entire cast is brilliant and audiences will surely get sucked into their story. Olivier Gourmet’s Stephane has a muscular and emotionally febrile presence perfect for obsession while Jean, as played by Tahar Rahim, is wiry and sinuous, scheming and malleable, or should that be breakable. The person weaving the magic between the two men is Marie who is perfectly portrayed by Constance Rousseau who has an ethereal and placid presence, light and slight, she melts into and out of scenes. A perfect foil for Rahim and perfect for the final sequence which requires supreme underplaying by the actors to deliver the mysterious and haunting ending.
The gentle nature of the story allows for creepiness and gloom to gather in the dank basements and in the torpid grey light of the day. Kurosawa works with cinematographer Alexis Kavyrchine to bring his typically excellent use of shadows, the light and darkness creating terrifying spaces and navigable ones, that effect of light reflected from a watery surface, the vertiginous shots of Jean’s garret flat, fantastic use of swirling panning around characters so viewers catch a glimpse of something in a mirror. The camera is sinuous and a haunting presence in itself as it floats around locations like Marie’s beautiful greenhouse, cold corridors with billowing curtains in the mansion, and everyday streets of Paris which located everything in the real world. All of these spaces are fit for supernatural visitations.
The film fully tips into the supernatural in the final third but long before then we have got used to the borderlands between the living and the dead being porous. Ghosts and the living intermingle and there’s no need for an internet connection like in Pulse even if these spectres move and sound like Kurosawa’s baleful and balletic wraiths from that film. If a comparison had to be made in terms of filmic texture and substance, it is Seance. The damp atmosphere of dread, ghosts invading the everyday surroundings of the living, and, more pertinently, the detailed psychologies of characters formed by believable real-world troubles and guilt which create scrambled behaviour and minds that summon vengeful spirits. All the Kurosawa chills are present and it has an added element of French class thanks to the setting and French cast and crew. This is effectively new Kurosawa but a wonderfully familiar ghost story and it is a fantastic return to form for the man. Thank you Kiyoshi Kurosawa.