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Daguerreotype (The Woman in the Silver Plate) is a French-language film by a Japanese moviemaster, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. A young man takes a job as an assistant to an old-fashioned photographer. The photographer has fully abandoned all media beyond daguerrotypes, an 1800s technique of capturing images on silver plates. He keeps taking life-sized still photographs of his daughter, increasing the exposure time more and more, to the point where she has to stand still for hours on end for his camera to capture her. His obsession is inexplicable, and soon the daughter and assistant try to get away from the father's warped world and pursue their less deranged futures.
The atmosphere of the film is enticing, to say the least. It has a breath of old fashion, beyond just the primitive photographic techniques around which the plot revolves. The settings, the shots used, the manner of acting, somehow both subdued and overdone, all channeled old cinema in a pleasant, tranquil way. It helped transport me to a different world, where I almost forgot I was watching a movie.
But the atmosphere is the only constant in this movie. The rest of it is confused, and meanders between several different plot directions without rearing any of them to the point of interesting. Not to mention that it doesn't manage to make them consistent with each other. It seems that the beings captured in the plates of the daguerrotypes exist with no purpose, and the movie just plays out melodrama around them. The plot points are sadly soap opera-like, basic (trying to force someone to sell their valuable property for a big project when they don't want to, a daughter that wants to pursue her dreams outside of home while her father doesn't want her to leave, etc). I wish the interesting concept of saving living beings into metallic photographs was part of a more engaging, more inventive script.
I do like the duality between the two men, assistant and photographer, all the similarities and differences between them and how they pan out in terms of the ghostly photographs. An interesting mirror. But neither character was particularly likable, so their fates did not feel as impactful as they should have.
With all its 'negatives', Daguerreotype is still a stunning piece of cinema by a director that treats film as art. It just fails to entertain or to leave a lasting imprint.
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