Rue Daguerre, in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, served as office, editing suite and home for Agnès Varda from 1951. People and place form the bedrock of Varda's filmmaking, and both are beautifully exemplified in this cinéma vérité documentary: an investigation of community and body politics that reveals the dreams and illusions of the residents of this humble French high street.
Daguerréotypes opens with Mystag the magician, who acts as narrator, alongside Varda, for an illuminating stroll on the Rue Daguerre (a street named after one of the pioneers of photography, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre).
In her observations of the baker, grocer, butcher, perfumer and laundress, Varda is unobtrusive but inquisitive, gleaning information about the shopkeepers' histories and hopes. “I sought to capture the people’s way of life,” Varda said. “In this simplicity I touch on another aspect of feminism: filming in a simple way the simplicity of daily life.”
Varda’s own 'immobility' (like that of her shopkeepers) is key to the larger filmic and political structure of the film. Tethered to home with a new baby and having promised her neighbours she would only use her own electricity supply, Varda created an ‘electrical umbilical cord’, confining herself to filming within 90 meters of her own doorstep.
This simple premise begs deeper thought about the social politics of labour and gender. A complex puzzle is presented as an enchanting vision of the beauty and universality of daily life.