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Daguerreotypes - Movie Review - 1976/2011

On The Street Where Agnes Varda Lives

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Daguerreotypes - Movie Review - 1976/2011

Daguerreotypes - Perfume Maker and His Wife

Ciné-Tamaris/Paramount Home Video
French filmmaker Agnes Varda has a wonderful way of making fascinating drama of the smallest details of ordinary daily life, and that's exactly what she does in Daguerreotypes, her documentation of life on the rue Daguerre, a street in Paris' 14th Arrondissment.

Rue Daguerre is the quaint and quiet storefront-lined residential street on which Varda has lived for decades.

The documentary was actually shot in 1976, and first released in 1978. It is having its long overdue US theatrical premiere in 2011, thanks to New York City's exceptional Maysles Cinema, where it has a one week run beginning on December 12, 2011.

Varda's Unique Perspective

With her brilliant storytelling skill, Varda transforms the small details of daily life into larger than life drama. In Daguerreotypes, she employs her cinema verite fly on the wall shooting style to follow several Parisian shopkeepers -- the local perfume maker, butcher, baker and others -- as they go about their well established, well practiced daily routines. She records them as they open their shops, stock their shelves and serve their regular and new customers. And, as they carry out their various tasks before her camera, the shopkeepers seem to grow in stature. They become important personalities, the keepers of local culture and tradition.

Varda's inimitably intimate camera work captures their twitches, their unexpected and nuanced glances and the subtle gestures that reveal their inner thoughts, and illustrate the unspoken tensions of their lives. Nothing of much conseqence happens, but with Varda's observational guidance, the quite ordinary behavior that through lesser eyes might be seen as plain tedium is quite mesmerizing. The shopkeepers are enchanting. They are not inhibited by self-consciousness. Watching them becomes an intense and enjoyable experience.

Extraordinary Storyweaving Skills

Then, with her extraordinary vision and skill, Varda adds another dimension to our point of view. She follows the shopkeepers from the safe and familiar environs of their stores into the unknown world of a local magic show where they encounter the unexpected and fantastic. Intercutting the footage of the shopkeepers in their own environments with footage of them experiencing the mysteries of magic reveals even more about their inner lives and aspirations.

They are the people of Paris. This is the street on which Agnes Varda lives. It is 1976. And you are in a mystical time capsule that captures a mixture of the mundane and magical elements of that very specific world for all eternity.

Varda is a brilliant filmmaker, and Daguerreotypes is a magnificent documentary. If it is at all within the realm of possibility and your means, take advantage of this limited opportunity to see it on the big screen. If you can't make it to the Maysles Cinema screenings, by all means see Daguerreotypes on DVD on the largest screen you have available to you.

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Film Details:

  • Title: Daguerreotypes
  • Director: Agnes Varda
  • Release Date: 1976. US Theatrical Premiere: December 12, 2011 (limited)
  • Running Time: 74 mins.
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Production Country: France
  • Production Location: Paris
  • Language: French, with English subtitles
  • Distributor: Ciné-Tamaris/Paramount Home Video

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