The Double Life of Véronique

The Double Life of Véronique ★★★★★

Krzysztof Kieślowski had already made his mark on Polish cinema by the end of the 1980s and was a fixture on the festival circuit. Conveniently as his international renown was building, the communist regime had finally begun its collapse across the Iron Curtain and presented an opportunity for the Polish master. Kieślowski was given funding by French production company Mk2 to make his first film outside of Poland but still had a part set in his homeland. What came out was The Double Life of Veronique.

Kieślowski had started making documentaries to social realist features to eventually his distinct metaphysical storytelling. He combined this with social realism to tell stories of communist Poland but he and Krzysztof Piesiewicz were now presented with a challenge to make a film that was not limited by censorship.

The Double Life of Veronique comes across as the most metaphysical film Kieślowski had made up to this point. There is a disregard for rules of life and we have to go with it. It’s an incredibly ambitious film that deals with themes and feelings that aren’t easily explained depending on your point of view.

Kieślowski did not make the journey to the west alone and included the collaborators that made him the distinct talent he became. Piesiewicz co-wrote the screenplay. Sławomir Idziak uses the same techniques on previous collaborations to create a unique and haunting visual style. Zbigniew Preisner composes an amazing score that is attributed to a fake Dutch composer and greatly adds to the film.

Irene Jacob was a first-time collaborator who was essentially unknown before this film, but the success of the film catapulted her into stardom. Jacob is the defining star of the film. She is a constant presence and it must be fate that Kieślowski chose her.

To explain what the film means is a difficult process as nothing is simple. It’s easy for a casual filmgoer to be dismayed by the whole ambiguity and oneiric imagery. I can sympathise as I am still unsure of what certain elements of the film mean. However, I and others believe the film itself relies more on creating feeling than a story. This is its strength and helps create a film that can be interpreted in many ways.

I find the premise to be absolutely brilliant and its executed wonderfully. Irene Jacob plays Veronique and Weronika, a casting decision that makes total sense now but while making it, I wouldn’t be surprised if people were sceptical about literally getting the same actress to play the same role. The premise is centred around the idea of a doppelgänger and their connectedness. The idea of a doppelgänger is nothing new but Kieślowski adds his metaphysical spirituality. This makes for a compelling premise that left me questioning how this would turn out.

The two women don’t have the literal same lives but share uncanny similarities. Both are musically inclined; Veronique is a music teacher while Weronika is an aspiring singer. Both of their mothers died in childhood leading them to be raised by their fathers. I am not sure if this quality was intentional, but Jacob portrays them with this naïve innocence that adds to the mystery of the film.

The hook is that after we follow Weronika navigating her life in rural Śląsk and Krakow, she gets the opportunity for her big break on stage after being discovered by a music school teacher. While singing an irking yet powerful piece in an incredible scene, she collapses and dies. While this is the end of Weronika’s story, this is the beginning of Veronique’s journey.

Both feel they are missing something but can’t explain what. Weronika feels it after their only encounter when she sees Veronique in the main square of Krakow. Veronique feels it after Weronika has died without ever knowing who she was. This unknown feeling carries her through the journey to discover what it was that she was or they were missing.

This makes the film a mystery film in some aspects with spiritual elements added, but as the film progresses the narrative became somewhat pointless. That sometimes didn’t work or worked tremendously. As The Double Life of Veronique is tackling questions that could be answered in a variety of ways, it makes the film equally vague and enigmatically transcendental.

Whenever someone focuses on this film, the most obvious part to note is the doppelgänger aspect but I can see there’s a hidden metaphor that is never directly addressed but would be in Kieślowski’s next series of films. The West vs East. This whole story happens because Veronique can visit the Eastern Bloc. Because this is Kieślowski you can argue that this was always meant to happen but, their connectedness is mirrored by the East opening up to the West. Although they are from completely different backgrounds (despite being from the same continent), they are linked. A subtle metaphor that works beautifully and I enjoy how indirect it is shown.

In general, the film has an amazing feeling that is challenging to describe and this is created by the world portrayed. This is helped in part by the brilliant camerawork of Idziak. It’s a shame to learn he hasn’t worked on anything noteworthy like this film since he collaborated with Kieślowski.

His cinematography makes this film work. It has a wonderful sepia tone that is well shown in what could be my favourite scene from the film. The orchestra scene where Weronika dies, the whole scene works in every aspect. I found to be tremendously disturbing but compelling. It exhibits what makes this film work, the scene feels real yet unreal. This feeling carries the film.

There is no straight answer as to what The Double Life of Veronique was supposed to be about. As the plot becomes increasingly irrelevant and the story ends ambiguously.

Let me put it this way, the questions such as what is the meaning of life, why am I here or is there a god can be hypothetically answered or impossible to answer. These are subjective questions and this is an equally subjective film. I believe that Kieślowski would’ve wanted the audience to think that God brought these two lonely souls together, but it could be put down to magic or coincidence. This is where you get or dispel audiences, I like this.

One element that was clear to me was the investigation into the meaning of the soul. This film brings up more questions about an individual than a collective. It is related to fate and Kieślowski has explored this theme before where the answers are equally vague. They do share the idea of fate, questioning its malleability. The character of the puppeteer who Veronique has an unspoken connection with suggests that our souls are controlled like a puppeteer handling their puppets. The power of this film is that this answer could be anything.

I love when a film does that to me, it makes me think about my life. What’s my path in life, where to go and is there someone who connects with me? It’s a film where the story becomes pointless as the minutes go by and you are taken into a world of transcendence where there are no easy answers. I could only dream to make something so spectacular someday, as this film has impacted me greatly.

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