Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Writer: Krzysztof Kieślowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Cinematographer: Sławomir Idziak
Producer: Leonardo De La Fuente
by Jon Cvack
Having completed The Double Life of Veronique a little under two weeks ago, I’m realizing how few details I remember from the story, as the images are so powerful that you begin to forget the narrative; offering the strange experience where you’re mindful of each moment’s beauty and brilliance and at times you forget to connect it to what happened prior. Kieślowski was a self-described pessimist, whose early death seemed an inevitable conclusion. As with his other films, I was left with a peculiar melancholy. It's a story about the smallest moments that provide meaning and satisfaction in our lives; from looking through a glass crystal ball and seeing the beautiful distortion of life and light to the way in which music allows us to momentarily transcend our dissatisfaction and frustration; all combining to provide meaning within the smallest moments.
The story follows a young Polish woman Weronika (Irène Jacob) singing outdoors with a choir when a sudden downpour causes her fellow members to run for cover while Weronika holds the final note. She meets up with her boyfriend, Antek (Jerzy Gudejko), where the two head back to his apartment and have sex, providing one of many gorgeous lovemaking sequences I've ever seen. The next day she explains that she’s going to go and take care of her aunt in Kraków, taking a break from their relationship.
While in Kraków, Weronika sings for a local choir, soon attracting the attention of the musical director and a conductor who offers her a chance to audition for their company. Afterward, she exits to the urban streets where a protest takes place against the government. When one of the demonstrators bumps into her and causes the sheet music to fall and scatter in the wind, Weronika looks up and sees what looks like her twin sister board a bus and drive away.
Weronika gets the part, and during her opening performance, she pours everything she has into the performance before collapsing dead onto the stage.
That same day, we cut to the alleged twin Veronique (also played by Irène Jacob) making love to her own boyfriend before suddenly struck by melancholy. The next day at a school where Veronique teaches music, she takes her class to a marionette play, providing another gorgeous and incredibly lifelike performance from the puppeteer while the music of Van den Budenmayer plays over; the same song that Weronika died singing.
Veronique explains to her father that she’s begun to feel lonely, as though a person she loved had abandoned her life. The episode is intense enough to cause her to go and get an EKG to see if there might be a deeper illness; throughout which she begins receiving mysterious phone calls and a strange cassette tape containing sounds from a nearby train station where she finds the puppeteer. Her and the puppeteer enter into a strange, though passionate relationship. She later discovers that he is working on a new book about a woman who has an identical, though unrelated twin out in the world, of which she shares a deep connection. The closing image is her arriving at a farmhouse, touching an olive tree, to which her father inside appears to respond.
It’s a fantastical narrative that so easily could have fallen under the weight of illogic; saved by the absolutely beautiful images captured in nearly each and every scene. My girlfriend came into the room ten minutes into the film, waiting for her friend to get ready. Knowing nothing about the story, she was fully hooked in within seconds, to which when her friend was ready to go she said she wanted to stay back to watch. Like the story, to list the images out seems grossly insufficient; where like a similar song or piece of art, you can’t describe the feeling it provides other than to experience them. It's a story that demands repeated viewings to better piece together the subtle details.
At one point Veronique says, “All my life I've felt like I was here and somewhere else at the same time”; and I think most of us do the same. We see either the ideal self and what we could be fully capable of and the life it’d provide (as though a singer) and are drawn back into the reality of where we actually are (such as a music teacher). Given Kieślowski’s pessimistic philosophy, I’m left wondering if this film reflects the polarity; between the hope, joy, and purpose that creating art provides versus a world that mostly doesn’t care. In an interview, he said that in America he was amazed by “the pursuit of empty talk combined with a very high degree of self-satisfaction.” Out here in LA, it often seems more people are interested in the prestige or riches gained from making art than about exploring any particular ideas. The Double life of Veronique portrays these dualities - reality versus imagined, hope versus despair, success versus failure, love versus hate; showing the dangers of falling too far into either category, rather than accepting a little bit of both and welcoming the inevitable melancholy.
BELOW: Now imagine this on BluRay and full sound; let alone the theater
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