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The Double Life of Veronique

January 30, 2017

The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Actors: Irène Jacob, Philippe Volter, Sandrine Dumas

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Synopsis: Weronika (Irène Jacob) and Véronique (Irène Jacob) are two female doppelgängers born on the same day but living completely separate lives in different countries, unaware of the other’s existence. Strange portents hint at their kindred state, and Weronika even catches a brief glimpse of Véronique as a tourist in Krakow. A cataclysmic event sees their sensibilities become even more entwined…

Review: Unquestionably one of the most immersive and sensory films ever made, Krzyzstof Kieslowski’s great success with The Double Life of Veronique is not merely that he crafted a work of transcendent beauty (which in itself would be enough), but that his complex, intuitive take on the ephemeral mysteries of existence was born out of that very beauty and craft of his medium rather than resorting to mere expository, literary methods.

Though there is a clear narrative construct – Weronika/Veronique are cosmically linked, perhaps each other’s doppelgänger – Kieslowski uses the ‘conceit’ to elevate and speculate rather than rationalise and explain. Thus the story is told as much through its cinematography, sound and mise en scène than the cine-dramaturgist’s tool of words and editing. It certainly possesses something of the dynamism and spirit of the nouvelle vague. Kieslowski as filmmaker is never content to simply point the camera; his perspective is always on the move – somehow approximating the sensory shift of his two protagonists (most literally in the staggering sweep from a concert hall, to a burial spot, and on to a woman making love).

The Double Life of Veronique is also one of the great cinematic exhibitions of expressionistic lighting. Coming directly before his Three Colours trilogy, Kieslowski compliments the red/white/blue theme of those films with a descent into a nocturnal, green hinterland here, suggesting a perpetual ethereal perspective. If anything, this sustained assault on the palette of the film echoes Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, and there’s something to be said in reading this film – like Tarkovsky’s – as the most cerebral of sci-fi fables.

The richness of the story shouldn’t be totally overlooked though amid all its stylistics. It’s a remarkable parable on the essential unknowability of human experience. How, outside of our homogenised worlds, the ephemera of images and sensations in front of our eyes we process as “life” is something almost phantasmic and transitory. It reminded me a touch of David Lynch, not only in style, but also in Lynch’s submission to the ‘uncanny’. Certainly, The Double Life of Veronique‘s suggestive shifting of one persona to another hints at Lynch’s own co-opting of this conceit in Lost Highway.

Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the luminous presence of Irène Jacob in the lead role. I’ve written elsewhere about how her fit with the aesthetic of Kieslowski was a match made in heaven, and there’s something about her innate saintliness and simple classicism that made her a better fit for this type of indeterminate material than Juliette Binoche whose imperiousness was better suited to the outright tragedy of Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Blue(January 2017)

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