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Festival de Cannes 72 Countdown: La double vie de Véronique / The Double Life of Véronique, 1991

We excitedly countdown to the 72nd Festival de Cannes with a different prize winning film each day.

La double vie de Véronique / The Double Life of Véronique, 1991

Prix d’interprétation féminine – Irène Jacob

Prix du Jury Œcuménique


In one of the later scenes of Krzysztof Kieślowski‘s dazzling, intoxicating The Double Life of Véronique, the title character (or, at least, one of them) asks a male companion why he has made two puppets. His response is that one will likely be damaged when handling it. So true of the actual film’s plot itself, of course. It’s a cliche to cite Kieślowski as the puppet master here, but a clear example of the film-maker transcending his own creative psyche into the movie.

The Polish maestro is not particularly interested in pretentious symbolism for the sake of it. His passion, one of many, is the reflection of human behavior, interactions, and chance. If A symbolises B, then so be it. As in life, Kieślowski’s world is consequential and adjoined. Whether we know it or not.

The Double Life of Veronique

The Double Life of Véronique has been oh so often described as a dreamscape. An ethereal projection of the human spirit and dual identities. That affecting other sense, you wonder why you suddenly felt alone, or impact another life in some abstract way. Perhaps you can’t physically touch it, or see it, but that sensation is there in some form or another. Well, that’s quite the reality in fact, in Kieślowski’s eyes, and is only part what makes his vision so luminous.

Kieślowski holds onto the notion of universal emotions, that we all have them. He wants to portray a certain sensitivity, usually in the smaller things like a glance, a pensive daydream, another person’s touch. Or the endless channels of communication, the reactions, expressions, apprehensions – signals not visible with the naked eye. With the craft of film, Kieślowski can say it much better than I can.

The Double Life of Véronique handles what appears to be complex notions with such simplicity. Breathtakingly so.

The Double Life of Véronique takes multi-dimensional views of our double-protagonist. Weronika and Véronique are the spitting image of each other. One resides in Poland, a singer, and the other in France, teaching music. The way one woman’s tale ends, sadly, morphs to the next is seamless, yet the spiritual link between them brims to the surface when Véronique feels a sudden grief.

The responsibility and existence of other people, the way we live and do things that might influence those around us somewhere, fascinates Kieślowski. Much of what we would never fully comprehend, or know about. Moments that merge, or disperse, and that lives change, or paths cross, and breed new opportunities or directions. The Double Life of Véronique handles what appears to be complex notions with such simplicity. Breathtakingly so.

It is quite early on that Weronika she sees her double taking pictures from a bus just setting off. Much later, Véronique will spot an extremely familiar figure in her photos. We have kind of come full circle. But it is not the going back to the beginning that Kieślowski alludes to, rather his circular narratives are much more about reaching those connections – whether intentional or not.

The Double Life of Veronique

French actress, Irène Jacob, is a revelation in her dual role. A somewhat timid flower, perfect for such a role. An angelic vision, able to carry such depth of emotion of such little shoulders. Kieślowski saw Jacob in Louis Malle’s Au revoir les enfants, a tiny role that left a last impression for sure. The actress even took up Polish for the role – though she was partially dubbed in post-production.

Krzysztof Kieślowski was walking on water as far as cinematic popularity was concerned.

The first music number, as Weronica sings, leading a choir, is hauntingly enticing. And then, as she holds that final note, even though the rain drops down on her face, is mesmerising. In the casting of Irène Jacob, as well as, say, the red cardigan and gloves her character wears, Krzysztof Kieślowski is somehow reflecting a future venture with Three Colours: Red. And the integral plot-line of music composition, this film kind of prepares for the first of the Three Colours trilogy, Blue. Told you, connected.

The director encourages, maybe even implores, his acting troops to almost improvise part of their character development. Irène Jacob was tasked with noting possible mannerisms and reactions, varying between Weronica and Véronique. And Kieślowski was ideally looking to do minimal takes of any given scene, for authenticity. Those intuitive methods from the director gave the impression that he left them to live and breathe, almost in the same vein as a documentary.

The non-fiction genre being close to the film-maker’s heart – and a hefty part of his early Polish shorts. The Double Life of Véronique marked a shift in location for Kieślowski, shooting a significant portion of the film in France. And by this time, the strength and weight of the production of Polish cinema was considered greater than many other of the country’s known exports.

Given the critical acclaim of The Dekalog films (and the feature spawns, A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love), Krzysztof Kieślowski was walking on water as far as cinematic popularity was concerned. The Double Life of Véronique would also signify an astonishing final chapter in his career, especially given the access to his amazing work globally.

The bewitching Irène Jacob again, the magnetic glow responsible for sackfuls of the film’s radiance.

Reflections, distorted viewpoints, views through windows, falling water, The Double Life of Véronique so beautifully merged the difference between the human vision and the perspective outside of this, that it hardly needed to be differentiated. Nothing is spelled out here. The bobbling, glaring gold light that wakes Véronique, is simply a boy across the street reflecting the sun through a mirror. At one point on a train, she impulsively looks through the transparent ball watching the world rolling around through the window.

The Double Life of Veronique

Cinematographer, Sławomir Idziak, has crafted an immersive, unforgettable collection of images. All part of the same fable, beautifully flourishing and poised throughout. No film looks like this. None. Capturing Véronique pressing her hand and face against the cold glass when she’s a little flushed is pure cinematic candy. Also delicious, are the immaculate close-ups – like a magnifying glass used to look at a stamp and postmark. Sounds ordinary, looks glorious.

And that stirring score from Zbigniew Preisner is majestic. Seemingly channeling more than one emotion, so much so you just get lost in its haunting sounds. And let’s mention the bewitching Irène Jacob again, the magnetic glow responsible for sackfuls of the film’s radiance. A performance so rich, so beguiling, and yet so wonderfully subtle, she is enchanting in even her most solemn of moments.

For many, The Double Life of Véronique is the discovery movie that brought Krzysztof Kieślowski into their vision. There is a hell of a lot to see prior to that, but the truth is, this stands immeasurably as an immensely unique segment of Kieślowski’s masterful career.


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