THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE, out now on Criterion
Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski made THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE towards the end of his long and illustrious career, and while fans will see similarities to his earlier works in terms of pacing and mood, VERONIQUE marked an arresting departure towards a deeply meditative, supremely metaphysical space. Though VERONIQUE offers little in the way of plot, it’s a hypnotic and thoroughly moving masterpiece.
The basic story is of two women, Weronika and Veronique. One lives in Poland, the other in France. Although they’re both played by the same actress, Irene Jacob, they’re two different people, somehow linked by a subconscious bond. When one dies, the other is overcome with grief even though they’ve never met and live miles apart. Later on, Veronique sees a puppeteer and engages in a bizarre courtship based entirely on intuition.
According to Kieslowski, the film “deals with things you can’t name. If you do, they seem trivial and stupid…The film is about sensibility, presentiments and relationships that are difficult to name, that are irrational…The realm of superstitions, fortune-telling, intuitions, dreams, all this is the inner life of a human being, and all this is the hardest thing to film.” He goes on to talk about his “search for the right balance between the obvious and the mysterious. Showing this on film is difficult. If I show too much the mystery disappears; I can’t show too little because then nobody will understand anything.”
It’s a difficult film to talk about in a concrete, critical way simply because so much of its strength comes from the feelings it evokes in the viewer, and to trace the source of that evocation is like unraveling a mystery. The events that occur in the film don’t transpire in a literal, physical way, but they hold you, trance-like, and the story unfolds to your overwhelmed senses.
The Criterion release, which came out only a few days ago, is available in Blu-Ray and is packed with some amazing special features, including three short films by Kieslowski, rare on-set, behind-the-scenes footage, a 2005 interview with Irene Jacob and the alternate ending for US distribution.