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.