Criterion Discovery: The Double Life of Veronique
The Double Life of Veronique (spine # 359) is a 1991 drama directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski, starring Irene Jacob. It was his international breakthrough, and acts almost as a predecessor to his Three Colors Trilogy. Kieslowski has four other films in the Criterion Collection: Three Colors:Blue (Spine #588), Three Colors:White (Spine #589), Three Colors: Red (Spine #590), and Blind Chance (Spine #772).
In The Double Life of Veronique, two identical women living in two different countries are profoundly bound to each other. The film is many things. It is a shattered mirror, it is a hazy dream with a lingering sense of deja vu, it is pent up emotion and an overarching feeling – love, anger, passion, all encased in a light, and ultimately it is an impossibly flourished masterpiece. Like most other films, it contains a narrative and conveys a story, one that is generally straightforward and undiluted by convolution, but most importantly, the film, with its elaborate labyrinth of detail and unspoken thoughts, creates a sense of pure and unbridled emotion. With subtle nuances, intricate details, and a brilliant and controlled central performance from Irene Jacob, the film creates and successfully follows two identical characters, hundreds of miles away from each other, that simultaneously contrast each other like opposite sides of a coin. We witness the duality of these two characters and their intrinsic and almost supernatural bond with each other, despite never having met. First, we meet the passionate Weronika, who lives in Poland, filled with joy for life, who, while fluttering into success and love is cursed with a heart not strong enough to handle it. Then we meet the more careful and meticulous Veronique, who decides to abandon her potential for music, falling in love, rather, with a puppeteer, after feeling a sudden onslaught of grief after the death of her reflection. These two characters are brought completely to life, each one developed into a different entity with limited exposition or narration or the likes that can generally be attributed to lazy filmmaking. This established differentiation between Veronique and Weronika by director Krzysztof Kieslowski is absolute genius, and the portrayal of identity is both fascinating and awe-inspiring but also completely haunting. He discloses so much with so little, his camerawork is telling and almost liberating in its freeness. In one scene, it flies over the heads of audience-members as Weronika’s spirit escapes her body.
Then the film progresses and it becomes a mystery as Veronique tries to discover the source of the mysterious, seemingly inconsequential items arriving in the mail for her. The film contemplates unrequited love and manipulation, beseeching the audience to continue to play detective in this quest that transcends normality. Slow details and influences from Veronique’s clone are injected into these sequences, as the reflections are made less evident, or the similarities between their two different lives are made known. Note when Kieslowski no longer emphasizes reflections. It is a subtle reminder of the loneliness Veronique is afflicted with after the death of her lost doppelganger. With a color palette that drenches every scene in hues of green, gold, and red, the film completely drags you into a trance-like state. The Double Life of Veronique is a cinematic marvel that evokes the most complex of emotions, inexplicable or not. The film mesmerizes, captivates, enthralls, hypnotizes, and despite being slightly confounding at times, it never fails to evoke an inexplicable emotion. The overlaid soundtrack accentuates this dreaminess and infuses a plethora of profound emotions and overarching beauty. The film is heavily anchored by the performance of Jacob, who channels perfection and beauty for both performances and creates a noticeable distinction. Her depiction of two different souls in identical bodies is intimate and allows us to truly peek into both characters’ hearts, while remaining emotionally empowered enough for us to feel admiration and sympathy.
The film comes with two documentaries on Kieslowski: one on his life as a whole, and one on the production of the film, as well as an commentary with Annette Insdorff, who wrote Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski. Extras also include three of early Kieslowski’s short documentaries, a reflection from Irene Jacob on the film from 2005, and video commentaries from long time collaborators, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak and composer Zbigniew Preisner
With beautiful cinematography and a spectacular direction that isn’t entirely grounded in realism but filled with realistic emotion, Kieslowski strikes a chord and holds it, never fluctuating, allowing us to completely partake in his masterpiece on the same wavelength of its main characters. Unlike its two titular doppelgangers, The Double Life of Veronique is one of a kind.
Criterion Grade: A+
Film Grade: A