Saturday, November 4, 2017

DAGUERROTYPE finds chiller-master Kiyoshi Kurosawa filming (and fumbling) in French

Some of TrustMovies' favorite chiller films have come from Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who has given us, over the years, Cure, Pulse, the recent (and perfectly titled) Creepy, as well as genre-jumping wonders such as Bright Future and Tokyo Sonata. In his latest to reach our shores -- DAGUERROTYPE (known originally as Le secret de la chambre noire) -- the filmmaker is working beyond his usual Asian locations and in the French language (the filming, I believe, was done in Belgium), and as is often case when filmmakers work in a language other than their first -- see Olivier Assayas' Clean or Personal Shopper for further proof, or especially Yorgos LanthimosThe Killing of  a Sacred Deer, which I will cover whenever its distributor sees fit to open it here in South Florida -- the results can be pretty iffy.

Kurosawa's dialog (the filmmaker is pictured at left) has never been what the viewer remembers best, in any case, as his visuals -- usually as subtle as they are chilling, with masterful camera movement -- pull us in and hold us fast.

This is true again here, too, except this time his film moves exceedingly slowly and is freighted with a plot so utterly manufactured and full of coincidence and nonsensical behavior that we hold on only for those occasional but very impressive visuals. As usual, what Kurosawa chooses not to show us is often as meaningful and impressive as what we actually see.

Not being nearly as familiar with as many Asian actors as I am the western variety, I must say that the filmmaker has assembled a crack cast to perform his little divertissement. His star is that remarkable French actor Tahar Rahim (shown above and below, right), who broke through to international acclaim in 2009's A Prophet, has now amassed 25 movie/TV credits, and in the ten films I've seen has never given less than a sterling performance.

Rahim possesses a remarkably beautiful, sculpted face that expresses much yet seems to do very little in the process. I don't know that he has ever had an unbelievable moment on-screen, and his innate sensuality/sexuality is such that it spills over into everything he does without being at all "pushy." If you have not seen his lovely turn in Heal the Living (now streamable on Netflix), you really must.

His co-star here is the pert and delicate Constance Rousseau, above, whom I've seen a few times previously but never in a role as large as this one. She and Rahim make a fine pair; their chemistry is good, even if their dialog is generally so-so.

The movie's third wheel is that fine Belgian actor Olivier Gourmet, shown above, right, with yes, the great Mathieu Amalric, at left, who does a mere walk-on in the film. Here, as he often does, Gourmet seems to personify a "walking, talking frown." He plays the Rousseau character's unhinged father, an old-fashioned daguerrotype photographer who used to be a hotshot fashion fellow, but upon the death of his wife, seems to have gone round-the-bend. Gourmet has a single scene in which he is allowed to behave and emote a bit, and he's terrific, as ever. Otherwise, he is condemned to that movie hell reserved for actors working with directors of a foreign tongue.

It is Gourmet's hiring of Rahim that sets the would-be plot in motion, as the younger man learns some of the trade of the older, while beginning a relationship with the daughter. Botany and French real estate (along with its burgeoning value) figure into film's later development, and more silliness ensues. Daguerrotype is never in the least frightening nor chilling, even given its many nods to death and ghosts. Further, its love story seems paltry, despite the efforts of its two stars. I admit to being happy to have seen the film, however, if only for a few precious visual moments. It's a rare Kurasawa miss, nonetheless.

The best thing about the film, in fact, would be its lovely poster image (shown at top), which turns out to be cribbed from the still above and then colorized to make a certain point. (That point actually gives away the single surprise this movie has up its sleeve, and even that surprise should be obvious early on to those viewers who have seen more than a handful of films in their life.) From Under the Milky Way, in French with English subtitles and running an unconscionably lengthy two hours and twelve minutes, the movie arrives on VOD nationwide on Tuesday, November 7, on all major platforms including iTunes, Sony, Google Play, Amazon, Microsoft, Vudu, Comcast, Charter, Cox, Vimeo, and various other cable operators. 

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