For 50 years, Agnès Varda lived on Paris’ Rue Daguerre, a quiet street of merchants not far from Montparnasse. She saw the men and women (mostly husbands and wives) who ran the shops, cut the hair, baked the bread, and carved the meat. What are their stories? Varda wondered, and with her trusty camera, she took to the street, photographed their faces and hands, asked for their tales, and preserved these perfectly ordinary Parisians for future historians, sociologists, and archeologists. Forty-plus years later, we are the archeologists investigating those faces, most of whom are long since dead. As is Varda. But, as long as there is electricity to power projectors, their faces will never fade. Such is the beauty of cinema, and Daguerréotypes—a play on the street’s name and an early form of photography—feels closer to the daguerreotypes of the 19th century than it does to the commerce of ours. Simultaneously enchanting and tragic, Varda allows a neighborhood magician to preside over her documentary, further emphasizing cinema’s hypnotic powers. Culminating with a silent curtain call of the rue’s shopkeepers, Daguerreotypes is a work of kindness and curiosity that will leave you breathless.
Post Script: The above review ran in Boulder Weekly back in February (Vol. 27, No. 27, “Daguerreotypes“), just a few weeks before commerce shut down. Looking at these images now, I occurs to me just how ephemeral businesses are. (Not to mention how wonderfully cluttered that perfume shop is—it reminds me of a second hand book store where a stack could topple over at any moment.) COVID has changed a lot of that, at least for now. How wonderful it is that Varda left these images behind, I hope current filmmakers are doing the same for all the businesses of today.