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Two identical women, one living in Poland (named Weronika) and the other in France (named Veronique) are completely unaware of one another's existence, but still have a strange feeling of connectedness to something they can't explain. However, when Weronika unexpectedly dies in the middle of performing the lead vocals in a choral work, Veronique starts to feel an unexplained sense of loss as she finds herself needing to come to grips with these strange feelings of missing someone from her life she can't rationally account for. Krzysztof Kieslowski's hauntingly beautiful fantasy "La Double Vie de Veronique" ("The Double Life of Veronique"), exploring the metaphysical existence of feelings, connections, and relationships that are shared between people regardless of where they live, is a cryptic and poetic enigma that leaves a lot of the story to be interpreted by the viewer at their own discretion. Released in 1991, the film is largely constructed of two parts, with part one dealing with Weronika and part two with Veronique, both parts brought together by the women's subtle but mysterious connection, and the feelings they both have over a person they've never met outside of a fleeting passage of Veronique happening to snap a photograph of Weronika on the street while visiting Poland.
Beyond that, the movie's symbolism takes centre stage in handling any actual connections the two women share as the focus shifts from following the youthful excitement of Weronika chancing to get the lead vocal part in a concert that will lead to her demise, while in Paris Veronique meets a part-time puppeteer and famed writer of children's books (Philippe Volter) as they begin a hesitant relationship through the most unorthodox of means. Highlighted by the gorgeous cinematography of Slawomir Idziak and the haunting music of Zbigniew Preisner, both of which are instrumentally important to the film in both their aesthetic and symbolic meanings (the latter, in particular, ends up making its presence known through several junctures as a phantom line between the deceased Weronika and the still living Veronique), this is a film that approaches cinema as a pure artistic expression in which complete understanding of the plot is not really entirely necessary. Going by themes of feelings and the connections people share even between great distances that are not dependent on geographic or even personal considerations, with Irene Jacob doing a wonderful double role leading to a low-key, but fantastical journey of self-discovery, loss, and love, make this film an experience that may leave some scratching their heads, but reaps great rewards for those with the patience to stick with it to the end. (c) berlioz 2014
Having enjoyed 'Three Colours Red' starring Irene Jacob and directed by Krystof Kieslowski, I was delighted when a friend offered to lend me 'The Double Life of Veronique', featuring the same actress and director.
Both Weronika in Poland and Veronique in France feel that they are not alone in the world. Both roles are played by Irene Jacob, so the two young women obviously look identical, but they do not know each other. Yet they have an inexplicable connection. The first part of the film focuses on Weronika, who leaves her father and boyfriend to go and stay with her aunt in Krakow. She is an extremely talented singer and soon wins a competition. Veronique visits Krakow and by pure chance photographs Weronika from a tram during her time there. Weronika sees her and notices the resemblance, but she is unable to catch Veronique's eye.
I obviously don't want to give the plot away, but after about thirty minutes the scene switches to Paris and from then on concentrates on Veronique. Veronique is also talented musically. She teaches at a school, and she feels a strong attraction to a man who puts on a puppet show for the children there. Both Weronika and Veronique had lost their mothers at an early age, and we see Veronique talking to her father about falling in love and also about feeling connected to someone else. She starts to receive anonymous packages through the post and is determined to discover the identity of the sender.
Irene Jacob is wonderful in this double role that relies on facial expressions and gestures more than on dialogue. Looks and silences are more meaningful than words, and Jacob immerses herself in the two characters with a remarkable sensitivity. Not surprisingly, she was awarded the prize for best actress at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991 for 'The Double Life of Veronique'.
By comparison, the other roles in the film are minor ones. Worth mentioning are Jerzy Gudejko as Antek Weronika's boyfriend, and Wladyslaw Kowalski who appears briefly as Weronika's father. In the second section of the film, Claude Duneton plays Veronique's father and Philippe Volter is Alexandre, whose role becomes increasingly important towards the end of the film. All portray their characters admirably, but this is a film that is dominated by Irene Jacob's performance.
Kieslowski has presented us with a film that is difficult to interpret and virtually impossible to explain. There are those who see Weronika and Veronique as being one and the same person, but that doesn't work for me as we see each of them in conversation with their respective father. This explanation would also destroy the sense of mystery that pervades the film. It is enigmatic and will appeal to those who don't like having everything cut and dried but believe in spiritual or perhaps psychic links between people who may not know each other.
Visually, 'The Double Life of Veronique' is a joy. There are scenes were a golden glow contrasts with mysterious shadows, and moments when close-ups take on major importance. A tea bag in a glass of tea becomes magical, and the world is seen upside-down through a tiny transparent ball speckled with stars.
Anyone who loves choral or woodwind music is likely to be spellbound by Zbigniewe Preisner's music that runs throughout the film. The soundtrack was brought out on CD, but it is currently only available on Amazon Marketplace at an astronomical price.
The film has a 15 certificate and does contain some sex scenes that are not overly graphic.
The DVD I borrowed was a two-disc collectors' edition, disc two being dedicated to extras. The first of these is an interview with director Krystof Kieslowski (1991) that lasts about fifty-five minutes and includes several excerpts of the shooting of 'The Double Life of Veronique'. Kieslowski talks about film-making in Poland since 1970 as well as about his personal attitudes. He explains that he switched from making documentaries because he was more interested in people's innermost thoughts and feelings. He always wants the various members of the crew to contribute something personal to his films. He talks about our responsibility for other people, and sees the main message of 'The Double Life of Veronique' as being 'live more carefully', because our paths cross with those of other people whether we are aware of it or not.
Following this is an interview with Irene Jacob. We hear her talking at length, without the interruption of questions from an interviewer. She describes the experience of her audition for 'The Double Life of Veronique' and about how impressed she was that Kieslowski spent so much time with her before bestowing the role upon her. He asked her to think up a particular set of gestures or mannerisms for Veronique and Weronika. She confirms that Kieslowski does take suggestions from all the crew while shooting. She was, however, surprised by how many scenes were edited out of the final version of the film.
After this, there is a documentary entitled 'Kieslowski, Polish Filmmaker', but I have not watched it.
The final section of extras consists of four short films. The first of these, entitled 'Musicians', was made in 1958 by Kazimierz Karabsz, who was a strong influence on Kieslowski in his early days of documentary making. The following three shorts are Kieslowski's own: 'Factory' (1970), 'Hospital' (1976) and finally 'Railway Station' (1980). I haven't watched 'Hospital', but I watched part of 'Factory' and the whole of 'Railway Station'. They show Kieslowski as a very perceptive film-maker who concentrates on everyday actions and close-ups of facial expressions.
Despite having won a number of awards and receiving notable nominations, this is not a film that everyone will enjoy. It is based on relationships, premonitions, and inexplicable ideas rather than being action packed. It is, however, beautifully made and skilfully directed, and Irene Jacob's sensitive performance alone made it worth watching for me.
The recommended price for the collectors' edition of the DVD is £23.99, but Amazon has it for £10.97.
Also posted on Ciao UK under my username denella.