The Double Life of Véronique

The Double Life of Véronique ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

"What else do you want to know about me?"

Well, here we are again. I managed to wait a whole 3 weeks before watching this again. I think it's official: I'm in love. I think I'm also finally ready to talk about it without spoiler tags, so hopefully I can convince those of my followers who haven't seen it to give it a chance.

If you're used to traditional narrative cinema, The Double Life of Véronique can be a little difficult to access. Not because it's necessarily smarter than your average blockbuster, but rather because by shifting its focus from story to atmosphere it cuts out a lot of "unnecessary" transitional information. Weronika/Véronique will suddenly show up in a different location and we have no idea where it is or how she got there, or she'll be talking to someone on the phone who we've never seen before and to whom we'll never be formally introduced.

Forget these details: all you need to know is that for the first 30 minutes the film deals with Weronika (who speaks Polish) and for the last hour it deals with Véronique (who speaks French). Weronika decides to become a professional singer in spite of a debilitating heart condition, and Véronique gives up her pursuit of music for a safer life as a teacher. But as this life proves to be relatively unstimulating, she finds herself tempted by the entrance of an enigmatic puppeteer.

Of course the reason I can't stop watching it is that this skeletal structure is populated with a wealth of symbolic details. From more obvious symbolic objects like the transparent ball which presents the world upside down to more mundane things like the recurring series of strings and shoelaces, everything is purposefully placed to open up a variety of potential thematic dialogues. I've read this film as a confrontation with the contingency of meaning and a dialogue between the opposing goals of longevity and spontaneity, but its rich complexity allows for any number of possible readings (the traumatic nature of free will, the conflict between desire and drive—I'm sure I'll be back soon to share more of my interpretations).

But even head cases like myself need something more immediately enjoyable to want to watch (and rewatch) a film, and this is where Double Life's atmosphere comes into the equation. Like Lost in Translation, this film is more concerned with presenting a certain vision of the world rather than a certain causal chain of events. The cinematography and music are the two most obvious indicators of this: everything is shown through distorted shades of green, red and yellow, and Zbigniew Preisner's haunting score gives it minor key tonality with hints of dissonance underlying its magnificent crescendos. Like its director, it is a movie troubled by its efforts to reach toward greatness.

There are a series of intriguing details here which continue to fascinate me (the motif of characters looking at the world through glass as compared with the film's own uniquely distorted look at the world; the moments where the camera moves like a spectral body, as if Véronique is literally haunted by the presence of Weronika), but these are discussions for another time when I've succeeded in gathering my thoughts and my ever-increasing collection of notes. Until the next time I decide to venture out into spoiler territory, I hope this has been a more helpful explanation of this new favorite of mine for those who have yet to experience its beauty.

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