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.