‘La Double Vie de Véronique’

Film is more often than not principally concerned with vision and sound. What we see and hear are the architectural foundations for the cinematic experience. The other senses are certainly evoked through characterisation and setting; however, I have yet to come across a filmmaker who manages to convey sensuality in such a heighten fashion as Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. His films possess the ability to distil sensory fragments and present them in such a way that they are almost tangible. As Kieslowski commented in an interview, “The realm of superstitions, fortune-telling, presentiments, intuition, dreams, all this is the inner life of a human being, and all this is the hardest thing to film.” For me, the film that best exemplifies Kieslowski’s filmic exploration of introspection and private worlds is The Double Life of Véronique (1991).

Of course I’d like to get beyond the concrete. But it’s really difficult. Very difficult.
– Krzysztof Kieslowski

The film concentrates on two female characters, Weronika and Véronique (both played by Irène Jacob). One is a soloist living in Poland and the other is a music teacher in France. Although they are physically identical, they have never met. The film romanticises the uncanny connection between Weronika and Véronique; however, it is never entirely explained to the viewer and this relationship raises far more questions than it answers. The film depends on the viewer to suspend any notion of logic and to simply take in Slawomir Idziak’s breathtakingly hypnotic cinematography, which filters the film imagery through the subjective impressions of Weronika and Véronique.

Due to this approach, The Double Life of Véronique will not appeal to all viewers. For one thing, the plot unfolds at an achingly slow pace and the sequence of events is based less on action than gestures and glances. Sensory moments such as the crackling sound of brittle autumn leaves, the sensation of raindrops lightly falling onto Weronika’s face and Véronique’s hand tracing the uneven texture of tree bark are magnified and become the focus of the plot. One scene in particular (featured in the clip above), in which Weronika sits on a train and views the passing landscape through a glass marble, conveys Kieslowski’s obsession with perception and sensation. His films, in general, manage to capture a distinctly palpable mode of experience, whereby the emotions of his characters take precedence over the story. By focusing on minute changes in mood and response, he constructs a truly affective cinema.

Although it is not a ghost story in the conventional sense, The Double Life of Véronique is infused with haunting. Doppelgängers, apparitions, strange repetitions and absent presences pervade the film, tying these conceits to the larger themes of identity and desire. The Double Life of Véronique is a film that exists within shadows, unfinished whispers, uncertainty and ambiguity. Watching it requires feeling, not understanding.


4 Comments ‘La Double Vie de Véronique’

  1. Elliot November 25, 2010 at 10:30 AM

    amazing movie. also i kind of love the, assumedly intentional, punny nature of the title. (“double vie” sounding like the french pronunciation of the letter W. )

  2. hila November 25, 2010 at 11:15 PM

    ah danica, fantastic post – although you are preaching to the converted with me :) I think I lent you a copy of the film ages ago, although I can’t remember. I hope it was my good, criterion collection dvd, as befits your style.

    I am so haunted by the music in this film and of course, the sepia tone. Irene Jacob is just perfection. Incidentally, there’s a book on Kieslowski in the Reid library called “Double Lives, Second Chances” – it’s quite good for the themes you mention here.

  3. KN November 27, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    sooo…loved the new post. i need to watch more kieslowski i really want to see his red, white and blue trilogy. this one will also be added to the list. from what i have seen with this director is that his direction seems completely connected to image. in the clip you have the actress nearly acknowledges the camera (breaking the 4th wall). I can imagine kieslowski getting this great performance because he can tell an actress to look at him as he sits next to the camera (much like bergman). I’ve also seen binoche drag her fist along a brick wall in “blue” and thought that these processes are best to get performances. that is: the actor has something to do, rather than focus so much or too much on feeling. They are in the moment. when he constructed this sequence it seems like all he really has to do is tell her to look, that’s it.

  4. Danica van de Velde November 28, 2010 at 10:36 PM

    @ Elliot I had never noticed that – such a great use of word play!

    @ hila Yes, it was your copy that I first watched; however, it was not the Criterion Collection version, alas. I love Zbigniew Preisner’s score too – it really is very haunting and complements the film action so well. Will be sure to check out the book when I have the time – thank for the tip : )

    @ KN I’m pleased that you liked it. You should definitely watch the Three Colours trilogy – they are beautiful films. And yes, it is amazing how Kieslowski makes the breaking of the fourth wall work – in the hands of a lesser director it would look terrible. He does, as you point out, have a very organic way of getting the best performance from his actors.

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