For this latest installment of the Around The World in 80 Films journey, I have decided to visit Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique. Seeing as we are hosting a 10 day celebration of Kieslowski’s work it seemed only fitting to view this film. This is an absolute delight of a film, the closest on can get to seeing and feeling a dream being depicted on the big screen. This is a film which draws you into this grand story of identity and individuality without ever becoming too large in scale.
Watching The Double Life of Veronique, we are left with this comforting feeling that we are never truly alone in the world. Some may be alarmed by this notion and certainly other films have presented the concept of the doppelgänger as a bad omen, something sinister and paranormal. However, Kieslowski presents the concept of something to embrace and through our ‘doubles’ we can learn to grow and develop as individuals.
“When she sings, everyone stops and listens in awe.”
The film follows the lives of two women who share a face, this face belongs to actress Irene Jacob. Jacob plays Veronica who lives in Poland, and also the character of a French woman named Veronique. These two women aren’t aware of each other’s existence, but somehow they share this feeling that they aren’t truly alone in the world.
We open in Poland with our first version of ‘Veronica’ who goes to Krakow to visit her aunt. While there, she wins the attention of a choir director, whose husband is a famous conductor, and Veronica is chosen to sing at a concert. Her voice is a gift from heaven, that seems to make time stand still. When she sings, everyone stops and listens in awe.
Before the concert takes place, Veronica encounters something strange. She spots a woman who is her exact double, getting onto a bus. This other woman is taking snapshots, and doesn’t see her. The entire situation is like an episode from The Twilight Zone, completely surreal and unexplainable. Just who is this double and how are their lives connected? Veronica’s life goes on but then an even more devastating event occurs to this young woman.
The film’s location switches to Paris, where we meet Veronique, a schoolteacher. Attending a marionette performance with her students, she sees the puppeteer in a mirror at the side, and he sees her. They seem drawn to each other and Veronique later confesses to her father that she is in love. Love isn’t the only strong emotion that she feels.
Veronique confesses this feeling of extreme loneliness, which she can’t quite understand. She is, but doesn’t know why. Of course, anyone who has suddenly felt the on-set of depression and anxiety can relate to this. Sadness has an awful way of sneaking up and enveloping us when we least suspect it.
“People are drawn together through extraordinary circumstances.”
The puppeteer Alexandre (Philippe Volter) begins to pursues her with mysterious gifts (an empty cigar box, and shoelace) and sends her tape recordings. These are not just gifts but breadcrumbs leading to her to him. The two of them meet, but is there a relationship to be had here or is Alexandre just using her as an experiment?
One can look at this strange form of courting as borderline stalking, but somehow Kieslowski executes it in such a way that feels romantic. Love, like the concept of time, works in mysterious ways. People are drawn together through extraordinary circumstances, sometimes by chance, and sometimes we have to piece together the puzzle.
The outcome of the film is for us to figure out. The pieces are all there, we just need to slot them into place and follow the breadcrumbs. Kieslowski manages to create a film which respects it’s viewer. In this day and age where information is at our very fingertips, and where we can simply ‘Google’ the answer, it is so refreshing to have a film where the answer isn’t there in black and white.
It is also refreshing to see a film which is so beautifully shot and acted. Jacob has such a down-to-Earth quality to her personality, but at the same time, her beauty is poetic. The camera often studies her facial expression, looking into her eyes as if trying to peer into her soul.
“Each shot feels like a painting.”
The cinematographer, Slawomir Idziak, allows his camera to move fluidly and often we feel like we’re floating in a breeze, drifting throughout all of time and space. The use of colour in this film is also noteworthy. There is a tint of yellow, and the bold use of red, greens and blues. Each shot feels like a painting, carefully crafted in order to be analyzed and observed. There is a hidden meaning in every little detail, (or there might not be, it is up to us to decide).
The Double Life of Veronique manages to capture how vast and mysterious the universe can be, even in the most mundane of situations. Kieslowski sees beauty in every object, even in something as simple as a shoelace or a bouncing rubber ball, and by the end of the film, you will be left examining objects in closer detail.
Beauty is everywhere and we should take the time to appreciate it. And, this is a film about time. Time is precious, time is fluid and unpredictable. Time is mysterious, otherworldly, and endless. To Kieslowski, time is God.