The Double Life of Veronique (1991) Review
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s masterpiece, “The Double Life of Veronique” (1991) is neither your usual action-packed movie, nor a chick flick. While Roger Ebert describes it as a film about feelings, this movie is not about the easily defined ones. Instead, “The Double Life of Veronique” is a film searching for answers that cannot be known or examined by our mind. Here, Kieslowski, a Polish director, the most known for “The Decalogue,” a series of short films that examine ethical dilemmas, continues to study the thought provoking matters in a very perceptive and aesthetically pleasing way.
Weronika, a young Polish woman visiting Krakow, gifted with a unique soprano voice, has always felt she wasn’t alone in this world. With an artist’s intuition, she senses an unexplainable bond that transcends time and place, but she isn’t able to elucidate it with words. At the same time, in Paris, another Veronique, who looks like her identical twin, lives a surprisingly similar life to her Polish counterpart. She speaks of a strange feeling “of being alone, all of a sudden,” and we, the audience, know why! Not long ago, Weronika, her Polish mate, collapsed during her brilliant singing performance and died.
These two women, unknowingly living their fates in parallel, somehow sense the existence of their cosmic twin. Neither Weronika, whose extraordinary voice can transfer a performance hall into a celestial plane, nor the French Veronique, a music teacher, can understand the mysterious nature of the bond between them. Kieslowski, with his Eastern European predisposition to pursue the themes of existence, morality, identity, and purpose, invites us to explore the conundrum of intuition and one’s knowing. Perhaps, the Poles are more equipped to ask existential questions, given their history of losing sovereignty, two world wars with the loss of over one-fifth of the population in the last one, and the more recent struggle under the Soviet oppression. Perhaps, the nation so heavily taxed is more prone to engage in such a philosophical discourse. Kieslowski’s work is certainly the product of his time and place. Like Weronika, who playfully observes the passing landscape through a crystal-clear bouncy ball, the director examines the less-tangible matters of human life with the subtlety of an artist.
Kieslowski together with Slawomir Idziak, the cinematographer, know how to create a highly artistic motion picture. The ethereal, steeped in warm colors shots of Irene Jacob, starring as both Weronika and Veronique, highlight the focus on the protagonists, on their internal world of feelings and thoughts. In one of the most unforgettable scenes of the movie, during Weronika’s performance, the music hall is infused with green, fluorescent light that suggests the sense of impending doom, especially when we realize the conductor’s hair is glowing green. The camera emulates the sensation of losing balance, and when we hear the loud thump on the wooden floor, we know Weronika is dead. This, however, happens in the twenty-seventh minute of the movie and there remains more to be seen.
Just before her untimely death, she sees her double, Veronique, entering a tourist bus and oblivious to her existence. Only later, and with the help of Alexandre, a mysterious stranger and a puppeteer, the French Veronique discovers her Polish double on the developed photos from her trip to the Eastern Europe. The realization that there is someone identical, that her feeling was substantiated, serves as a catharsis, for her and us, the audience.
A beautiful scene with the marionettes, parallels the Krakow choir scene in the use of green light, music, and a sense of anticipation, however, this time the only tragedy to happen is the ominous fall of a ballerina marionette and a broken leg. The marionette’s fall mirrors that of the Polish Weronika, but as fate would have it, the doll’s destiny is a rebirth of sorts, as she emerges with beautiful butterfly wings. The happy ending is a portent of a hope for Veronique.
As spectators, we are fully immersed in the women’s inner lives, from the moment Weronika decides to visit her aunt in Krakow, to the last scene of the movie, which leaves us pondering and wanting, at least some, clarification. Yet knowing the answer is impossible in a film tackling that which is not easily discerned by our logic, and can only be sensed.
One of Kieslowski’s brilliant moves was weaving in the music of Zbigniew Preisner in the plot of the movie. The musical theme, running through the film adds an unmistakably artistic quality to the movie. In “The Double Life of Veronique,” the music is presented under the name of a fictitious eighteen-century Dutch composer, and its distinct, albeit very elegant flavor accentuates the pivotal moments in the plot. Preisner, a good friend of Kieslowski, composed music scores for his other movies, such as “Three Colors Trilogy” and also wrote “Requiem for My Friend” to commemorate Kieslowski’s death in 1996.
“The Double Life of Veronique” is a must see for those who are fond of artistic movies and are not afraid to leave the theater pondering the message of the director. This film is best enjoyed with a cup of freshly brewed beverage of your choice and plenty of time afterward to process and reflect on the meaning of life…
©Monika Mraovic 2019