The Double Life of Véronique

The Double Life of Véronique ★★★★

(major spoilers)

Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique is maybe most characterized by its thick sense of possibility. Of being on the verge. The camera calmly moves and then calmly sits through a world bathed in amber yellow and seaglass green, and an atmospheric quality falls over these two women's lives. Weronika and Veronique are on the precipice of their own lives, young women wrangling with their own talent, lovers, and convictions about what they want from life as they enter adulthood. They both long for, sense, and even at times fear the feeling that "something more" awaits them, beckons them, warns them, connects to them. I think of how Weronika is always lifting her face to the elements in receptivity, how on several occasions we are shown Veronique delivering searching looks through a number of windows.

The repeated use of Zbigniew Preisner's haunting minor melody, the shared encounters with the same strangers, and of course the mirrored likeness, experiences, and interests of the women elicit a blurred sense of reality. Of course, that the women are linked is not any type of insight, as it is the central conceit of the film, but the manner in which Kieslowski blankets both women with the same dreamlike tone communicates something further, that both lives are equally unreal, and therefore equally real. Neither can stand alone. Neither exists by itself. They are equally contingent.

In this way (alongside the thousand other ways a person could read it all), The Double Life of Veronique is an affirmation of the interconnectedness of people. For every life, somewhere there is a death; every advantage has somewhere had a cost; where I am obscured another is clear.

Tragedy's weight does not preclude it from sowing life into the collective soil, but Kieslowski never gives relief from an overall feeling of grief for very long. Every time the minor melody emerges in Veronique's story, we are forced to remember Weronika's death. Mere moments after Veronique and Alexandre speak their reciprocal love for each other, Weronika's presence in the discovered photograph once again delivers to them that enormous reminder of loss (which then, oddly but fittingly, turns back into a moment of intimacy and love).

Our attention, too, is regularly drawn to the social unrest in the city. Large protests, police sirens, car bombs; this is not an inconsequential choice of a setting for this story. It underscores that sense of loss and of the lives of individuals always being set against a backdrop that is vastly larger than them and more dire than they're able to fully realize.

During the closing minutes of the film, Alexandre describes the need for having two puppets as prop for his shows, saying, "they get damaged easily." Veronique takes the one puppet from his hands, moving it with fascination, seemingly mirroring its movements just as she is the one moving it. The shot, though, leaves her, and pans down to rest for about ten seconds on the lifeless second puppet on the table. Once again, what was lost takes focus.

This is not martyrdom, per se, and it is important to recognize that even this idea of a person bearing the brunt for another is not being valorized. I think it's just honest about how completely and bizarrely connected people are. This is how existence looks like to us. Why does one live while another dies? Why should one's misfortune not benefit themselves but rather another? To quote Wings of Desire, "why am I me and why not you?", a thought echoed by Veronique herself when she confesses, "All my life I've felt I was in two places at the same time. Here and somewhere else."

I think what is being valorized is the proclivity and ability to recognize these mutually dependent strings that we're pulled by, the webs that we all exist in together. Recall when Alexandre first comes to the school to perform his show, and we get a wide shot of the auditorium: every single person's eyes are fixed on the puppet, while Veronique's lone gaze starkly cuts across them at a ninety degree angle, towards the one she knows is pulling the strings. If anything about The Double Life of Veronique is presented as instructive or prescriptive, it is this shot and this idea.

Veronique slowly realizes throughout the film just how much sadness and loss is layered into the foundation of her very life. I wish this idea wasn't true and compelling. But it is.

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