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I still remember over 10 years ago watching this movie all alone in a
theatre with no one else (Monday afternoon or some other week day time).
Irene Jacob, the streets of France and Poland, the editing, the love
the plastic ball reflections, and especially the music all are so
that actually made me shivered and stunned.
Kieslowski's in another world now. I always worry whether it's possible to watch another movie that struck me so badly. A million thanks to him for showing me the most beautiful film of my life (probably).
p.s. this film has only been released in VHS - so ridiculous, a shame of the industry.
Krzysztof Kieslowski's The Double Life of Véronique (originally titled
La Double Vie de Véronique) might be the best film in the late
director's accomplished oeuvre. Perhaps most lauded for his monumental
Three Colors trilogy, Kieslowski first explored themes of duality,
synchronicity, and fate in this cinematic reverie. Irène Jacob, also
the star of Red, handles a double role as two women cut from the same
metaphysical cloth -- the Polish Veronika and the French Véronique. Her
presence as both women is at once whimsically childlike and sensually
melancholic; relentlessly alluring, it is easy to see why she became
Kieslowski's muse. Jacob is perfectly fluid in the shift between
characters, an embodiment of ideal femininity, as dreamlike as the tone
of the entire film.
Actor and director are symbiotic, relying on hazy, autumnal ambiance and mood for narrative, utilizing a subtle minimalist approach to dialogue. This is fine art, unlike heavy-handed Hollywood productions. The tone is consistently ambiguous -- emotionally resonant, to be sure, but beyond a vaguely somber, wistful undercurrent, the movie allows the viewer to fill the "empty space" with his or her own thoughts and feelings. It's a true testament to Kieslowski's mastery, and few films are ever so transcendentally sublime.
The lack of this masterpiece's availability on DVD is a sad affair. There are rumors of a release in 2005, but for fans of movies like Amélie hungry for something with a little more depth, The Double Life of Véronique comes most highly recommended -- even if you have to search high and low for a copy on VHS.
Only a few of the previous comments on this movie has mentioned the use of
music. Just like in Trois Couleurs Bleu, the music of La Double vie de
Véronique is very indivisible from the film: the visual and the auditive
form a united whole and also elements of it are directly part of the story.
And when it comes to music made for film, Zbigniew Preisner's powerful score
for this one is as good as it gets.
When there is little dialogue, it is not just the images and expressions on Irène Jacob's face that tells the story, but also the powerful strains of music intermingled with it.
Even with just these elements in place, it would be a movie worth seeing, though obviously a narrative based in little extent on dialogue and with less emphasis on a clear-cut story than your average American movie is unfortunately lost on some of the earlier commentators.
And even this seemingly sparingly laid out narrative reveals itself to the careful watcher to be a rich tapestry of symbols, metaphors and hidden meanings. Kiéslowski, just as in his other movies, demands participation of the viewer, and the one who expects passive entertainment has found the wrong film to watch.
Krzysztof never liked discussing meaning when it came to his movies, but liked keeping that up to the viewers, and few other directors have ever been able to lay out more food for thought and fruitful interpretation than him.
I saw the Three Colours trilogy before seeing Véronique, and the many similarities, both musical and in visual narrative, makes it feel like it almost belongs together with those three to form a quartet. In some ways it has more in common with Blue than Red and White do.
Had Juliette Binoche also been cast in the role of Véronique, as I understand that Krzysztof originally had intended, the similarities had been even greater. She was, however, occupied with shooting Les Amants du Pont-Neuf at the time I believe, and so Krzysztof opted for the less experienced Irène. I don't think the film is any worse for it: she is brilliant, and not just a pretty face as some people put it, but a very intelligent and aware actress as anyone who has seen her interview for the Red DVD release should discover if they haven't already.
In short: a wonderful film, wonderful music, great acting. But not a movie for everyone.
Probably the best film of the decade.
These are some keywords I think best suit this film:
Religious, Fatherhood, Duplicity, Fullness, Sensuality,
Due to the blasphemous american rants below (I can´t imagine a single movie from the USA in the 90s better than this one, sorry for that), I decided to write about this peculiar film. I think the film is more accessible for european viewers, the same way Dawn by law might be for american viewers (I can´t bear that pretentious american underground movies at all, with cool men swearing all the time, trying to be funny... I can´t identify with most of nineties american characters). There are many american art house films buffs as well, so I can´t say this is a general fact, it´s just my view anyway.
Regarding the development of the characters, Tsylia probably couldn´t understand at the beginning of the film how both women are described so poeticly. Weronicka is watching at the stars, while Veronique is watching the leaves fall. I see this is not evident but it says a lot about the two. Weronicka is more spiritual, magical, and Veronique is more practical, more "down to earth". If you cannot see the metaphores throughout the film you will not grasp anything about the development of the characters, that´s for sure. Furthermore, Irene Jacob performance is sublime, you can see on her face so many "difficult to express" sensations, she´s not just a beautiful face as it has been stated below (I can name hundreds of pretty american girls on stupid films, I was shocked to read Irene Jacob is just pretty, couldn´t these people see she´s a valuable actress as well). In any case she´s pretty in the sense Catherine Deneuve is, I mean she´s not the common beatiful woman, you can see by his gestures that she feels alone in the world, that she feels the fullness of life, ... She sometimes seems like an angel in this film (Weronicka).
I´m an atheist, but I admit the religious or spiritual feeling of the film engages anyone. The film evokes the idea that gifted people such this soprano singer have a spare part somewhere in the world, the same way the puppetier has a spare marionette for the one he uses most.
God is not mentioned but the scenes are revealing: Veronique caresses the bark of a thick tree in the very last scene, which could signify her real father as well, or just the idea of fatherhood.
The music is ten out of ten, if you feel nothing while listening to Preisner´s masterpiece, you´d better not say you´re sensitive anymore. This is his best for me alongside with the music for Short story of a killing and Damage soundtrack which sounds cruel and mysterious to me.
I can´t think of any other film more precious and lyrical than this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
St. Veronica, often called the patron saint of photographers, was,
according to legend, one of the women who followed Christ to his
crucifixion. At one point she handed the weary savior a cloth to wipe
his face on. He did so, and when he handed it back to her, there was
imprinted an image of his face on the cloth. The name Veronica, indeed,
is a corruption of the Latin "vero icon" - the true image (yes, a
contradiction in terms, I know). When Kieslowski's Veronika is
unknowingly walking to her death, that is, to the audition that will
lead to it, the French Veronique unknowingly photographs her from the
bus in the Krakow square, while frantically trying to get snapshots
from the ongoing riot.
Veronika, of course, ends up straining herself too hard singing, and because of her heart condition, snuffs it while singing those beautiful lines from Dante's Paradisio, about the ascent to heaven. Veronique, in turn, for some reason realizes that she has to give up her own singing career, and, seemingly without a single moment of regret, instead dedicates herself to teaching the music of Van den Budenmaier to untalented, bratty schoolchildren. There is little doubt, after watching the movie, that the Polish Veronika did indeed, somehow, die so that the French Veronique might live.
The opening sequence of the movie also contains the outline of Christ's life. Veronika is shown "the star that will start Chrismas Eve" (oh, the horrifically nonsensical astronomy we teach our children... but I digress. ;-) ), and immediately afterwords we are taken to France, where the child Veronique is being told about the leaves of spring. Christmas is the birth of Christ, while spring is the time of Easter, and his suffering and death.
So, is this, indeed, Kieslowski's very radical, and breathtakingly beautiful, take on the story of the suffering of Christ? Discuss, class. ;-)
I still listen to the haunting music that weaves it's way through this film and it never fails to move me. The whole film is almost like a modern day ghost story, following its own logic through the simplest but most effective storytelling techniques, beautifully crafted by a master director. Irene Jacob has never been better than here, and I would recommend it highly.
The above statement works not only as an honest description of the film, but also of the character (or characters) portrayed by Irène Jacob. The Double life of Véronique is not a film that allows easy description, it doesn't seem to fit in to any genre or category, it is a film that must be experienced under it's own terms, as a serious, hypnotic work of art. Director Kieslowski sets up the odd dreamlike atmosphere right from the start, using mirror reflections and odd camera distortions to show us the bizarre way that Veronique/Veronika sees the world around her. The use of sepia printing also gives the film an odd distilled look, taking us right out of any "real" reality, giving each of the frames something special. The problem this creates is that it takes away any real connection we have with the characters, we never really feel anything for them or are even that concerned for their outcomes, Kieslowski moves his actors around his "stage" in the same way the marionettes are manipulated in the film, but the film works on such a subtly hypnotic level I don't think that Kieslowski ever wanted us to feel part of this world. Kieslowski follows Veronique/Veronika through Paris and Poland, intimately probing her with close, hand-held camera, the cinema-verite effect of this making the viewer feel almost like a voyeur, following the women's every movements and encounters. The Double Life of Veronique is a film that definitely deserves to be seen and requires multiple viewings if we are to get everything out of it's complex, pre-destined narrative. A film full of beautiful images and haunting moods that you'll remember long after, if only there had been a little more focus on the characters I would certainly give it a 10. Maybe my next viewing will lift its marks. 8/10
Much of this is an adoration of French actress Iréne Jacob by Director
Krzysztof Kieslowski; in a sense it is a homage to her, one of the most
beautiful actresses of our time and one of the most talented. If you've
never seen her, this is an excellent place to begin. She has an
earnest, open quality about her that is innocent and sophisticated at
the same time so that everything a man might want in a young woman is
realized in her. Part of her power comes from Kieslowski himself who
has taught her how she should act to captivate. He has made her like a
little girl fully grown, yet uncorrupted, natural, generous, kind,
without pretension, unaffected. She is a dream, and she plays the dream
The movie itself is very pretty, but somewhat unaffecting with only the slightest touch of blue (when the puppeteer appears by the curtain, the curtain is blue, and we know he is the one, since she is always red). The music by Zbignew Preisner is beautiful and lifts our spirits, highlighted by the soprano voice of Elzbieta Towarnicka. But the main point is Iréne Jacob, whom the camera seldom leaves. We see her from every angle, in various stages of dress and undress, and she is beautiful from head to toe. And we see her as she is filled with the joy of herself and her talent, with the wonder of discovery and the wonder of life, with desire, and with love.
Obviously this is not a movie for the action/adventure crowd. Everything is subtle and refined with only a gross touch or two (and no gore, thank you) to remind us of the world out there. Véronique accepts the little crudities of life with a generous spirit, the flasher, the two a.m. call, her prospective lover blowing his nose in front of her... She loves her father and old people. She is a teacher of children. She climaxes easily and fully. To some no doubt she is a little too good to be true. And she is, and that is Kieslowski's point: she is a dream. And such a beautiful dream.
An actress playing the character twice in a slightly different way has occurred in at least two other films in the nineties: there was Patricia Arquette in David Lynch's Lost Highway (1997) and Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors (1998). It's an appealing venture for an actress of course and when the actress is as talented as these three are, for the audience as well.
Note that as Weronika/Véronique is in two worlds, Poland and France, so too has always been Kieslowski himself in his real life. It is interesting how he fuses himself with his star. This film is his way of making love to her.
Kieslowski died in 1996 not long after finishing his celebrated trilogy, Trois Couleurs: Bleu (1993); Rouge (1994) and Bialy (White) (1994). We could use another like him.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
I save films. By that I mean that some films I expect to be so precious
that I want to save them for some future drought, or blue period where
I need spiritual insulin. Or it may be that a valued filmmaker has died
and I know there is only so much to see new and I want to pace it
through my life.
Kieslowski is something of a demigod in my film world. It isn't that he has mattered so much in the sense of affecting me. Its because he can push geography with the slightest touch, infer emotional richness with the most subtle of motions, show us beauty headon headon without artifice. His the most delicate power I know in cinema. His "Decalogue" is complex, open, engineered to be contradictory in ways that seem natural. But they are not where the real juice is. Its merely where he worked out the way to weave vision and narrative conflict with his companion and creative partner.
It's "Three Colors" where it pays off. These are miraculous and I wish them on any open soul. They will tear you gently in ways you will not notice for years, and then know all of a sudden when you meet someone.
In between "Decalogue and "Colors," we have this, essentially an adventure in moving from Polish to French vocabulary, both emotional and chromatic. Here we see some of the strokes we will encounter later, in one colored film even with the remarkable Irene. But he seems unsure here. Things aren't integrated between cinema and narrative as they were before and would be afterward. The eye doesn't inform with curious discovery, instead seems to glance around and hover.
I suppose it is because the story isn't well developed in the way that others are. The deal with Kieslowski I think (beyond the beauty) is that he is able to infer future urges that probably will loop back into places and persons we see. (He closes a very few of these ordinary loops in the third colors film). But he never closes them, not the ones that matter. So we are left with our own emotions going ahead and anticipating results that matter to us, things started and not finished, breath sent out for us to catch and breath.
This film is based on Alice in through the Lookingglass, with a number of less-than-deft fixtures to the source. He tries to build grand arcs of anticipated futures around this symmetry but they aren't fragile and supported by our wishes as we have elsewhere. I think it was simply a time of adjustment for him, and I cannot recommend this, even though I saved it for decades.
I will suggest that if you do watch it, see the same story, the same emotional effects, the same tantalizing near-closure in "Sex and Lucia" by someone less gifted with the eye, but more gifted with the mysteries of women. Watch out for the delicate tearing.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
Like Last Year at Marienbad this is a film so beautiful that its worth
viewing even if there is no meaning to it. The use of light and shadow is
spectacular, the music is divine, and the camera is constantly seeking and
finding beauty in every shot.
Looking at the postings so far it seems everyone has a different explanation, so I might as well throw mine into the mix. To me Veronique/Weronika are twin angels being manipulated (guided might be a better choice of word) by God (or an abstract Divine) for some unfathomable purpose. Consider the use of the puppeteer as a metaphor for the condition, look at how he says he makes two because they are fragile and break easily (just as Weronika breaks in her concert). Veronique speaks of how she always knows what to do in every situation as if her life is leading up to something. Theres a telling scene about midway through the film where Veronique walks between shadows through a slender path of light her face gazing rapturously at the the sun. Both V's appreciate and reflect the beauty around them: light, shadows, the falling rain, ... highly reminiscent to me of the 'fallen' angels in Wings of Desire.
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