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FILMS France / Japan / Belgium

Daguerrotype: The portrait of a woman


- Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s new film, made with an entirely French team, is another ghost story, another variation on his preferred themes

Daguerrotype: The portrait of a woman
Constance Rousseau and Tahar Rahim in Daguerrotype

When it comes to the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the viewer never really knows what has happened previously. We’re likewise never quite clear on what is actually going on. His characters drift through disconcerting worlds which gradually pollute their entire reality and which often turn out to be mere, sombre projections of their own internal disorder. In this, Kurosawa is unique, a filmmaker in a class of his own, occupying a space somewhere between genre cinema and contemplative meditation. His new film, Daguerrotype [+see also:
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, which was made with an entirely French team (Balthazar Productions and Film-In-Evolution) and co-produced by Japan and the Belgian company, Frakas Productions, is another ghost story, another variation on his preferred themes: love, loss, memory – and guilt. Infused with the delicate and mysterious poetry that is so central to Kurosawa’s work, Daguerrotype is a timeless story about love and death… and a meditation on cinema.

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Living on the outer edge of society, a photographer (Olivier Gourmet) has retired from a glorious career so as to focus solely and forevermore on life-sized daguerreotypes of his daughter. Marie (played by the graceful Constance Rousseau) is pale and blond like a Hitchcock heroine and meek, sacrificing herself for her father’s art. She spends many long minutes posing in the basement studio, held in place by some kind of iron structure. Developed by Daguerre in 1839, the daguerreotype was the forerunner of photography: the subject, exposed at length to the light, is reflected onto a polished silver-coated plate inside the camera obscura. The plate has been sensitized to light using iodine vapour, which allows for the “fixing” of the image, and this image is then made visible by way of highly poisonous mercury vapours. In the large and timeless yet slightly neglected building that is his home, Serge endlessly repeats this primitive process of photography, stripping the real world of these “layers of living beings” to turn them into immortal portraits. Haunted by another woman - his wife, who has died - he makes his daughter wear pretty much the same dress and take on pretty much the same role. His photographs bring the living closer to the dead and abolish all notions of time. This is where we meet Jean (Tahar Rahim, striking in his portrayal of naïve, unrelenting obliviousness), who arrives like a stranger from another era to help Serge in his world suspended in time.

Filming in Europe with French actors for the first time, Kiyoshi Kurosawa seizes on the idea of the portrait, a recurrent theme in European culture and in fantasy literature. As if in a continuation of an Edgar Allan Poe short story, Serge drains the lifeblood out of the living for the sake of a magical moment where time can be frozen. But Kurosawa goes further. To immortalise the dead is to give them eternal life and such a transgression of the natural order of things will not be without consequence. Balance must be restored... We are talking here about the art of photography and cinema itself, the price we pay for eternity, and ultimately, transubstantiation between the living and the dead… However - as is always the case with Kurosawa – there are many messages conveyed by the film which won’t be confined to any one metaphor... 

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(Translated from French by Michelle Mathery)

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