Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Double Life of Veronique

Posted as part of Operation 101010
Category: Eurovisions (Poland) / In category: 7 of 10 / Overall: 80 of 100

Made just prior to his swansong ‘Three Colours’ trilogy, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s ‘The Double Life of Veronique’ is an autumnal work: elliptical, enigmatic and sublimely beautiful. The film won the International Critic’s Jury Prize for Best Film at Cannes, as well as Best Actress for Irene Jacob – to whom the epithet “enigmatic and sublimely beautiful” also applies.

Opening with vignettes depicting two identical young girls – one Polish, one French – experiencing a small moment of childhood wonder, Kieslowski spends the next half hour charting the life of the Polish girl, Veronika, now in her mid twenties, as she progresses from talented music student to trained soprano about to make her professional debut. Then the unexpected happens and, in France, Veronique’s love-making with her well-meaning but bland boyfriend is interrupted as a feeling of intense melancholy afflicts her.

Veronique, also a singer, decides to abandon her vocation. She ekes out a living as a music teacher. One day, classes finish early and the kids are entertained by a marionette show. The puppeteer, also a children’s author with ambitions of writing “a novel, a real book”, catches Veronique’s eye. Later, she receives cryptic gifts in the mail and finds herself inexplicably drawn to this quiet, intense stranger.

As the title intimates, ‘The Double Life of Veronique’ is about duality. About mirrored lives. Kieslowski subtly integrates this theme into the fabric of the film. His heroines are often captured in reflection: in mirrors, or in the windows of trains, buses or shops. Elsewhere, images, perceptions and POVs are refracted or distorted: through lenses, through marbles, through stained glass.

Parallels exist through incidents in Veronika and Veronique’s lives. Both have a childhood injury. Both have close relationships with their doting fathers. Both bear witness to old women struggling through the day (a reminder, perhaps, of their absent mothers?). Veronika worries about the legal matters her elderly aunt is consulting a lawyer about; Veronique agrees to lie in court to expedite a friend’s divorce proceedings.

Kieslowski never forces these points of comparison. Nor does he provide any explanation of what connects Veronika and Veronique – although a momentary glance as a tourist coach passes through Krakow provides Veronika with the knowledge that she has a double – but leaves it up to the viewer to tease out the connections and interrelationships from the web of ambiguity, suggestion and poetic images that he weaves with the elegance and assurance of a mature and accomplished artist.


J.D. said...

Simply amazing film and my fave of both Irene Jacob and Kieslowski. In many ways, she really was his muse, at least on this film and RED. But I think this is the film that does it for me. Just incredibly shot and Jacob's performance is something else.

Neil Fulwood said...

Thanks for the comment, JD. Agreed: 'Veronique' is easily my favourite Kieslowski film. Everything about it works: the visuals, the score, the delicate tracery of interconnections between the two girls' lives, and that amazing performance by Jacob. Her Cannes award was well deserved.