A metaphysical treatment of the ‘doppelganger’ story, Kieslowski’s brilliant work is both ravishing and mysterious, and features an incredibly mesmerising performance by Irene Jacobs.
Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
1991 | France/Poland | Drama/Music | 98 mins | 1.66:1 | French, Polish & Italian
M18 (passed clean) for scenes of sexuality
Cast: Irène Jacob, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Halina Gryglaszewska
Plot: Two parallel stories about two identical women; one living in Poland, the other in France. They don’t know each other, but their lives are nevertheless profoundly connected.
Awards: Won Best Actress, FIPRESCI Prize, Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (Cannes). Nom. for 1 Golden Globe – Best Foreign Language Film
International Sales: MK2
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray – first published 16 Jan 2018)
Being a huge fan of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, I’ve been wanting (and waiting) to see The Double Life of Veronique. The Criterion Collection Blu-ray edition has been sitting on my shelf for almost two years, but I feel now is the right time to watch. ‘To feel’ is the best way to approach this brilliant film, and as the write-up on Criterion describes, it is “an unforgettable symphony of feeling”.
Starring Irene Jacobs, virtually an unknown actress, but who eventually won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her mesmerising performance in this film, Kieslowski’s work struggles to be defined by any clear cinematic terms. It is ravishing to look at, especially the use of colour filters (which is reminiscent of the director’s A Short Film About Killing (1988)), but instead of Killing’s intentionally grubby look, Veronique’s visuals are poetic.
“Is that me?”
“Of course it’s you.”
And when matched with arguably Zbigniew Preisner’s finest score, which is operatic in nature, though it has its moments of sublime subtlety, Veronique could rank as Kieslowski’s most singularly contained work—a film whose world we could immerse ourselves in effortlessly, like an aural-visual capsule that invites us to enter so that we could dream along with the characters.
There are two lead characters, both played by Jacobs: Weronika, a Polish choir soprano; and Veronique, a French music teacher. They are doubles, leading their own lives, but one day they cross paths unbeknownst to one party. That’s all I will say about the plot. In one of the film’s standout sequences, Veronique tries to track down the exact location of a person who sent her a tape recording of ambient sounds. Kieslowski plays with the sound design in the film to great effect, not just in this superb part, but also how he employs cues from Preisner’s score as spectral allusions that haunt the character.
Kieslowski has fashioned a metaphysical treatment of the ‘doppelganger’ story, full of mystery and beauty. It is a film that sees no need to spell out the indescribable, for as mentioned, it has to be felt, be it the invisible connection between Weronika and Veronique, marked by aforesaid spectral allusions and uncanny moments, or their inner psyches as they deal intuitively with the fleeting feelings of bliss, melancholy and love. This is no doubt a masterwork by a master filmmaker.