Daily | Toronto 2016 | Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s DAGUERROTYPE

Kiyoshi Kurosawa makes a surprising venture into French-language cinema,” begins Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema. The title, Daguerrotype, “invokes the first publicly known type of photographic processing, utilized exclusively from 1839 to about 1860 before other less expensive processes were discovered. Kurosawa’s narrative, co-written by Catherine Paille (of Cedric Kahn’s A Better Life, 2011) and Eleonore Mahmoudian, concerns a crotchety daguerreotype photographer [Olivier Gourmet] who has retreated from the world into his countryside manor following the death of his wife. Obsessed with this archaic mode of photography, he takes on a new, young assistant [Tahar Rahim], who inadvertently begins to have feelings for his boss’ daughter [Constance Rousseau]. Ghostly apparitions and interactions are often featured in Kurosawa’s filmography, and while this latest straightforward venture is sometimes transparent and predictable, it’s a deliciously measured dish on madness and obsession featuring three dubious personalities stuck in a crumbling façade, evoking the fatal ambiance of the supernaturally inclined Edgar Allan Poe.”

“Kurosawa has ways of making it look easy, even unimpressive,” writes Nick Newman at the Film Stage. “To my knowledge, he has never made a film that’s less than a pleasure to simply observe, richly detailed in the environment and carefully calibrated in composition, cutting, and gesture—masterclasses too focused on feeling (excitement, mystery, romance, and, most often, terror) to pronounce great pretensions.” Daguerrotype “doesn’t stand with the Japanese auteur’s greatest work, nor as much of a great work in total, but it’s one we shouldn’t take for granted, in large part because it manages to strike the most elusive of moods: admirably boring.”

Keith Uhlich takes that a step further at the House Next Door: “Kurosawa’s first European production is, for better and (mainly) for worse, a film far out of its time. Though it takes place in the present day, its naïve emotional attitudes and molasses-slow pacing (more charitable viewers might deem it ‘hypnotic’) seem imported from a different era. Change the language and setting, but keep the overall tone, and this could be a gothic Hollywood melodrama from the 1930s or ’40s. The way the film prizes long-term contemplation over instant gratification is also admirable, but it proceeds with humdrum literalness.”

“Composer Grégoire Hetzel’s mournful score very faintly echoes Bernard Herrmann’s from Vertigo, a clear indication of Kurosawa’s ambition at crafting a grand, doomed romantic tale,” writes Screen‘s Tim Grierson. “Unfortunately, his characters’ inability to let go of the dead contains little pathos, the performers slipping into a more theatrical acting style that doesn’t square with Kurosawa’s restrained direction.”

For Rodrigo Perez at the Playlist, Daguerreotype is “a hazy, unhurried and cold study, that outside of a few chilling moments doesn’t disturb the head, heart or, ironically, the soul.”

Updates:Daguerrotype is certainly a mess, though it’s easy to surmise why he was attracted to bring his interest in ghosts, phantoms, and psychological displacement to cinema’s birthplace,” writes Robert Koehler for CinemaScope. “In an odd storytelling fumble by Kurosawa, the viewer is far ahead of the characters, and the final act of revenge is bloodless and inert.”

For Sam Fragoso, writing for TheWrap, this is “a classic example of a feature-length film that could just as easily have been presented as a short. It’s a recurring trend in festivals to program these titles: needlessly elongated, amorphous, under-cooked.”

Kurosawa “frames the winding streets of Paris’s exurbs much like Tokyo in Tokyo Sonata, and the entire cast is fine,” finds Filmmaker‘s Vadim Rizov. “But the material is very weak and, at a remorselessly bloated 130 minutes, attenuated enough to provoke increasingly great impatience.”

Updates, 9/13: Notebook editor Daniel Kasman suggests that “perhaps inspired by his new surroundings, and developing the tone of his unfairly forgotten, otherworldly romance Journey to the Shore (2015), Kurosawa keeps the horror at bay and instead infuses his film with lyrical sensitivity and a wryly developed but nevertheless touching romance reminiscent of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir…. A seeping swathe of grief, a spooky manor, lonely souls, the discomfort of photography’s lifelike aura, and the muted desire to escape inevitable circumstances: all are delicately held by the film conventions. Kurosawa’s greatest attribute is his beguiling ability to conjure cinematic spaces that ache: in their emptiness, their organic decay, their oneiric strangeness, their powerful pull on sensitive souls, impinging their sense of reality.”

Daguerrotype is something like a lesser gothic novel, possessed by its own backstory,” writes Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club. “It’s a shame that it turns so silly—devolving, as real 19th century stories often did, into a long conflict over the real estate—because its first hour carries so much suggestive potential…. For a movie that doesn’t really work, I’ve found myself recommending it to an awful lot of people.”

“Rahim delivers another self-effacing performance as a working-class man sucked into a world that’s not his,” writes the Hollywood Reporter‘s Boyd van Hoeij. “With her alabaster skin and strawberry blonde hair, Rousseau has no problem incarnating a timeless beauty and her scenes away from the mansion imbue her puppet-like character with a real joie de vivre. Gourmet, finally, is reliable as a man who not only clings to his art when life no longer makes sense but actually tries to find some kind of salvation through his art.”

Update, 9/15: For Kenji Fujishima at Movie Mezzanine, “like Journey to the Shore, Daguerreotype is gradually undone by plotting so nebulous that it gives the film a sense that Kurosawa wasn’t entirely sure where he wanted to go with the film, which leaves its supposedly slow-burning longueurs feeling dull indeed.”

Update, 9/26: “There’s an irony in Daguerreotype that the photographer is obsessed with film photochemically capturing humans—but your film is, I assume, shot digitally,” notes Notebook editor Daniel Kasman. To which Kurosawa replies:

It is digital, yes. I actually never thought about the irony between me shooting in digital and the theme that you mention, so I couldn’t really talk about that as a theme of this movie. But I personally think that in this day and age, whether it’s a digitally or analog way, shooting a movie itself is becoming an anachronism. It’s almost to the point that I consider making a movie at the same level as making a myth, as a daguerrotype. I would like to expand on this, how I see moviemaking as a daguerrotype-type of process. Because if you think about it, a lot of directors, not just me, even though we are shooting digitally, just to make one cut—how much time we devote! We don’t really ask the actors to be fixed in one of those contraptions [in the movie], but we ask them to stand there and do this, do that, pose; and we spend sometimes over two hours to make a ten second shot. So in that sense, every time we do that, we’re believing—we have to trust ourselves—that something miraculous is going to happen and we’re going to be able to capture that. I think that everybody, including the spectators and not just the directors, understand that this in itself is a very precious thing that we’re doing—and it’s a miracle.

Update, 10/25: In the Japan Times, Mark Schilling talks with Kiyoshi Kurosawa about the “most unusual project of his long career.”

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