“Can’t Stop Marathon” Review #16: The Double Life of Veronique (1991, Kieslowski)

November 10, 2011 — 10 Comments

It’s difficult to properly review a film of such elusive nature as Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique. Every time I think I’ve grasped a bit of it, it all just slips through my fingers. There’s a shape to the film, though its progression is quite shapeless. Images appear and reappear or don’t reappear. There are scenes that would seem to make no sense only to make sense with a certain perspective or in the context of other scenes in different parts of the film. The Double Life of Veronique is the kind of film that I am sure requires a second viewing to really wrap your arms around, but at the same time I doubt whether anyone could ever wrap their arms around it too tightly.

The story of The Double Life of Veronique is present in two parts, very loosely but very intrinsically connected. The first part is about Weronika, a woman living in Poland who looks to the spirit in the sky and pursues her incredible talent for singing. She ignores a mysterious illness and eventually her pursuit leads to her death during a concert. The second part is about another woman, Veronique, who lives in Paris. She also has some sort of illness, and seemingly as a result gives up her own talent for singing. She falls for a marionettist and writer who in turn leaves clues for her to find him. It’s a beautiful little romance.

What connects these two stories? Well, Weronika and Veronique, besides having the same name in different languages, were also born on the same day, look the same (both characters are portrayed superbly by Irene Jacob), share many similar traits, and have often had similar life experiences. They also both feel an etherial connection to each other, almost like the connection described between twins. They share a sort of understanding of the other person’s experiences, learning from them and reaction to situations differently.

I’m not too confident in analyzing the film much further, but I do think the film draws on powerful themes of the connections between people as well as the physical world we all inhabit. I don’t know that the film has a specific message. I wouldn’t call it a pro-spiritual film, nor would I say it’s pro-materialist. It can be read as a film about putting art above the self or vice versa. The Double Life of Veronique does not offer easy answers, which is a part of its elusiveness. It can be hard to judge which parts of the film are even important to the themes, though somehow they all feel necessary. I can’t say why, but they just do.

Beyond the elusiveness of the film’s themes, there’s also its editing. I will admit to having a bit of a problem with the first section of the film. That opening 30 minutes is almost too elusive. The editing make it a little hard to follow and thus slightly difficult to understand Weronika or become too attached to her before she dies. A second viewing might help this, though I wish such basic things would be ever so slightly more clear at the start; not to make the film easier to understand thematically, but to actually get hooked in more easily. All that said, the editing of the film really is quite special. I don’t think the film is a dream, but it sure feels like one. It moves from one scene to the next with a lack of clear sense, and that adds to the subtle beauty of what is built. We are whisked away into a real world that somehow feels fantastical.

Adding to that fantasy is the incredible cinematography. The film was shot by Sławomir Idziak who most recently did incredible work on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. His work here is truly something to behold. His use of reds and yellows and greens is bold. The combination of stylized colours and naturalistic handheld camerawork makes the film required viewing all on its own.

The Double Life of Veronique is not a film I can easily explain or put into a neat box with a bow on top. Elusive really is the only good word for it, but that elusiveness, along with the amazing cinematography, is also the film’s best quality. I’m still trying to suss out exactly what I’ve taken away from the film, and I’m sure it will require a second viewing, or a third, or even a fourth or fifth. The important thing is I can’t wait to give it those opportunities to further dig into my soul.

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10 responses to “Can’t Stop Marathon” Review #16: The Double Life of Veronique (1991, Kieslowski)

  1. 

    Veronique does not live in Paris.

  2. 

    “The film is about sensibility, presentiments and relationships which are difficult to name, which are irrational. Showing this on film is difficult: if I show too much the mystery disappears; I can’t show too little because then nobody will understand anything. My search for the right balance between the obvious and the mysterious is the reason for all the various versions made in the cutting room.”
    (SOURCE: Kieslowski on Kieslowski, p.173)

    http://www.weronika.freeserve.co.uk/the-double-life-of-veronique.html

  3. 

    You touched on something when you wrote that ‘the editing of the film really is quite special’. Around a third of the film was cut including a long and significant relationship sub-plot involving Catherine and Jean-Pierre which is almost completely removed from the final version of the film. Another scene that Kieslowski cut from the film is the one after Weronika looks through her plastic ball: She leans out of the train window, her mouth open and her hair flying everywhere. Weronika is thrilled by the speed of the train and then suddenly she is thrown into darkness because the train has entered a tunnel. He edited this scene out because he felt it was too obvious a reference to the sudden death that Weronika was soon to suffer. In fact, in the editing room Kieslowski cut anything which he felt might insult his audience’s intelligence. He also edited out scenes of Veronique having a shower, sitting on the edge of the bath with her head in her hands and of the puppeteer and Veronique walking hand in hand along the streets of Paris. The final scene of the film was originally a rising pan shot of Paris at night, a young woman in a window pointing out something to her small boy in her arms, a father explaining something to his daughter sat on his knee and eventually, the apartments of the neighbours and the illuminated streets in between. In a way, it was like returning to the opening upside-down night scene of Warsaw seen at the beginning of the film. In the end, this scene too was cut. For Kieslowski, it was, once again, overstating the obvious to the audience. I do bid you a very good evening.

  4. 

    A great film! Transcendent! Enlightening! Spiritual!

  5. 

    Great review Corey…Your elliptical writing about an elliptical film actually cuts to the core of why it’s quite amazing – it stays with you. Days after, scenes or even just moments pop back into the foreground of your brain for no apparent reason. Granted, many of those just happened to contain the lovely Irene Jacobs, but that’s not my point…B-)

    I’ll probably never get to that point of understanding completely what Kieslowski was going for, but I’m sure happy to keep trying…

    • 

      Thanks, Bob! It really is a film that has stuck with me despite still feeling like I didn’t understand it at all. Usually I just find that feeling frustrating, but sometimes, like with my first viewing of A Serious Man, it work perfectly. Hopefully I’ll get around to a re-watch sooner rather than later.

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