The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

Krzysztof Kieslowski | 1hr 38min

The mystical coincidences that bind French music teacher Véronique and Polish choir soprano Weronika together in an elusive, causal relationship beyond immediate comprehension reveals layers to these characters that neither can fully understand on their own. The Double Life of Veronique moves in such a lyrical way that while we can distinguish both women as separate individuals, we also can’t help but perceive them as two parts of a single consciousness, split right down the middle like the film’s own structure. The moment one passes away, we immediately shift to the other sitting up in bed several hundred kilometres away, struck simultaneously with an unexplained grief and a fresh sense of purpose. Irène Jacob plays both with a deep sensitivity, prone to blissful elation in musical sequences and profoundly affected by the tiniest shifts in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s bewildering cosmos.

Within the omniscient perspective that Kieslowski offers us across Véronique and Weronika’s lives, he carries on the ambitious form of his epic Dekalog series, where he watched his characters like an all-seeing God while still holding the utmost empathy for them. The interrelation of isolated segments similarly reaches across The Double Life of Veronique in the most unexpected places. There is the obvious parallel of both women being deeply involved in musical professions, but the orchestral piece that they share a soft spot for also emerges as a counterpoint between them, as does their common heart condition that gives us cause to worry about their health.

Both women share the same superstition of rubbing their gold rings on their lower eyelids to prevent styes. Tremendous form in repetition with these character traits.

The singular point upon which these paths converge comes during Weronika’s section of the film before we have been properly introduced to Véronique. From Weronika’s perspective, it is a tangential meeting of two fatefully identical women, as she catches a glimpse of her counterpart snapping photos of Kraków while touring on a coach. Before she can think of what to do, Véronique is speeding away, none the wiser about what just occurred. In the aftermath, Weronika smiles, as if finally receiving an answer to a question she never knew she had. Later, Véronique will experience a similar sort of epiphany when reviewing her photos and noticing her doppelgänger. “All my life I’ve felt like I was here and somewhere else at the same time,” she reflects. “I always sense what I should do.”

Coloured filters over the camera lens tinting the sky with a distinctly green hue.
Kieslowski layering patterned silk curtains over his shots, creating these exquisite textures.

Through ethereal lighting and lens filters that soak both women’s lives in tints of green, yellow, and orange, Kieslowski transports them into a dimension that seems ever so slightly separate from our own. Complementing these palettes are the reds that bleed through his production design, appearing in couches, flowers, and costumes that radiate a vibrant passion inside staggeringly gorgeous compositions. Also key to the beauty of Kieslowski’s cinematography and the formal notion of parallel lives are the visual manipulations of light through glass, whether they are catching reflections of characters or refracting visions of the world around them. As Véronique sits on a train gazing through a glass orb that turns the passing city upside down, we too feel as if we are looking into an inverted dimension, much like ours though recognisably distinct. Kieslowski employs such cutaways with symbolic contemplation, entering microcosms of reality that offer emotional insight where hard logic does not suffice.

Kieslowski employs beautiful cutaways like these with symbolic care.
Reflections and refractions of light in Kieslowski’s cinematography through windows, mirrors, glass orbs, magnifying glasses, even spectacles, these prisms creating doubles and slightly distorted views of the world.

As cryptically focused as The Double Life of Veronique may be, Kieslowski still has the grace to let his film zoom out a little in scope by the final act, introducing Alexandre Fabbri, the puppeteer and writer who draws Véronique’s eye. His marionette is a delicate instrument of expression, moving with elegance and fluidity, though unlike so many others in his profession he does not wear gloves and he handles the doll manually. Just as he does not hide his physical manipulation, neither does he hold back from revealing to Véronique that he is the one behind the assortment of items being sent to her in the mail as a test to see whether she would come to him. He too is the one who uncovers the image of Weronika among other photos from the trip to Kraków, and goes on to narrate a story of two women causally linked since they were born at the exact same time – when one burned her hand on a stove as a little girl, the other instinctually learned to recoil from the danger.

Red through Kieslowski-s mise-en-scène, occasionally overtaking these stunning compositions from the greens and yellows that dominate the film.

Much like Artur Barciś’ silent witness of the Dekalog, there is something supernatural about Alexandre that doesn’t entirely belong to this world. It only makes sense that he owns two identical copies of the marionette he performs with, moving them around like some powerfully transcendent being understanding more than he lets on. Or perhaps he is merely a puppet used by some higher power to contact Véronique and reveal the answers she has been longing for. As confounding in its formal complexities as The Double Life of Veronique is, Kieslowski’s absorbingly ethereal meditation on fate is also a magnificently moving piece of cinema, edging us towards an emotional understanding of humanity’s interconnectedness without ever fully letting us in on its mystical secrets.

The doubles of these puppets reflecting the doubles of Weronika and Véronique.
A tremendous dedication to the production design of the piece, combining colour and blocking to craft these delicate images of isolation and sensitivity.

The Double Life of Veronique is currently available to stream on The Criterion Channel and Mubi, and to rent or buy on iTunes and Amazon Prime Video.

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