Le Secret de la Chambre Noire

Creaky Vehicle for Ghost from the Past

March 29, 2017By Heidi EllisonFilm
Jean (Tahar Rahim) trusses up Marie (Constance Rousseau).

Le Secret de la Chambre Noire (Daguerreo-type; misspelled as Daguerrotype), the first movie by Japanese horror film director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to the great Akira Kurosawa) to be made outside of his country, in France, is basically an old-fashioned ghost story gussied up as a philosophical reflection on the nature of reality and the desire for death.

The story goes like this: Jean (Tahar Rahim), a young man who seems to have no past (we learn nothing about his former life) or future prospects (he has no work experience) gets a job as an assistant to a photographer who lives and works in a rambling, antique-furnished suburban house with a garden and greenhouse (the film’s strongest asset is its set design). Doors are already creaking open and mysterious women in 19th-century clothing flitting by even as Jean waits to meet his future boss.

The boss is Stéphane (Olivier Gourmet), a brusque man obsessed with making life-sized daguerreotypes of women dressed in old-fashioned clothing, first his wife, who has committed suicide (one soon understands why) and now haunts him, and then his daughter Marie (Constance Rousseau). To keep his models immobile for the required long sittings, he has constructed a special contraption. Part of Jean’s job is to truss Marie up in this instrument of torture before her father goes to work on capturing her image.

The conceit of the film is that Stéphane has confused reality with photography, which really makes no sense, either in the context or the film or in itself. Perhaps his images are supposed to be what causes the dead to come back and haunt him, but that idea is not enough to sustain this flaccid film.

As a ghost story, it is laughable, full of clichés like those creaking doors inexplicably swinging open and now-you-see her, now-you don’t apparitions of the dear departed.

Suspense? There is none; the film drags along from scene to scene, its only spark of emotion coming from the slowly developing relationship between Marie and Jean. There isn’t even a single moment when the spectator shrieks with surprise.

The young actress Constance Rousseau is lovely as the fragile daughter of the obsessed photographer, and Tahir Rahmin appealing as the young assistant, but I don’t think they have found the right vehicle for their talents in this bomb.

Daguerrotype does haunt me in one way, however – whenever I think of the two hours and 11 minutes I wasted watching it.


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