AF French Film Festival Review: Daguerrotype (France, Belgium, 2016) has its flaws, but creates the perfect eerie atmosphere

Best known for his contribution to Japanese horror, director Kiyoshi Kurosawa brings an interesting take on a ghost story. Daguerrotype (Le Secret de la Chambre Noire) follows a Parisian named Jean (Tahar Rahim) who is hired to be an assistant to the elusive photographer Stéphane (Olivier Gourmet). With Jean’s help, they create heart-stopping daguerreotypes, an old form of permanent photography which captured images on silver-coated plates. These images were often of Stéphane’s beautiful daughter and muse, Marie (Constance Rousseau), who wishes to escape from the confines of their home and her father, and sees Jean as her hope to freedom. As the story progresses, bizarre things start to stir within the house.

While Crimson Peak was proud to show all red and gore, Daguerrotype was a calm flame in the gothic category. It’s familiar, yet not much of the film is quite ordinary. The paranormal is subtle. It relays the haunting to the daguerreotypes themselves which served as a good source for a ghost story as the images were often striking and eerie. Plus the subject had to be completely still for a long time and to do so, used an instrument to support them as if they were mannequins.

The desolation of the photographer’s home (even more austere than mansions found in ghost stories), the almost zero presence of music and simple cliches such as a creaky door opening on its own further added the eerieness. The non-dramatic nature of these features creates a chill down your spine. The suspense also played a part but unfortunately didn’t work with this film. There were times where it would pushed the viewer to daydream as the plot didn’t go anywhere.

The performances were average. Despite alluring on the surface, Rousseau’s Marie didn’t capture me on an emotional level. Rahim played Jean who unfortunately gets tangled up and lost in the drama well, but still lacked any inner depth. Whether this distance from the audience was intentional or not is left to discussion. Gourmet’s Stéphane made me shiver with his stern looks and demanding personality. In fact, he was the one driving the story as his agenda was concrete and a very personal one. His determination to cling to the past and eventual fall was surprisingly more powerfully felt than Marie’s wanting an out.

There’s romance, but I didn’t feel or believe it. There wasn’t much of a build up to a romantic connection and the scenes between Jean and Marie felt awkward and stiff. She sees him as a way to freedom but do they need to fall in love? The consummation of their relationship was thrown in towards the end which was jarring and created confusion. What happened to the plot?

Despite its flaws, Daguerrotype stays you with after the film ends and allows you to take an interest in the early years of photography.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Daguerrotype is showing at the Alliance Française French Film Festival this March. For more information and tickets, click HERE.