The Double Life of Veronique
November 30, 2006
When The Double Life of Veronique (1991) was screened at the Cannes Film Festival it not only brought international acclaim and attention to its director Krzysztof Kieslowski but also to the film’s star, Irene Jacob. At the time, the 24-year-old Swiss actress was virtually unknown but she would go on to even greater acclaim when she teamed up with Kieslowski again on Red (1994), the final film in his Three Colours trilogy.
The first shot of Veronique (Jacob) is of her singing passionately in the rain as part of a choir. It’s a sublime image that showcases Jacob’s beauty as her face expresses the transcendent joy of being caught up in the moment. Weronika (Jacob again) is a young Polish woman who sings at a friend’s rehearsal and gets an audition to perform at a concert. The two women look exactly alike and yet are completely unaware of each other’s existence until Weronika spots Veronique on a chaotic Krakow square. Veronique is a music teacher who quits her second career as a singer after (an unbeknownst to her) Weronika dies suddenly from a heart condition and becomes romantically involved with a puppeteer named Alexandre (Volter).
Weronika’s death is a tragic one that Kieslowski captures so dynamically that you are caught up in the moment. He then juxtaposes her death and funeral with the epitome of life – Veronique and her boyfriend climaxing while making passionate love. Afterwards, she has a vague feeling of loss that she is unable to articulate. Lying in bed, Jacob is bathed in warm light and it makes her already perfect skin look even more beautiful.
Irene Jacob delivers a career-defining performance in this film. As Jonathan Romney says in his essay, included in the 64-page booklet, “Veronique looks like one of those films designed expressly to make us fall in love with its star.” Not only is Jacob simply gorgeous to look at, and not in an unattainable way (which Slawomir Idziak’s cinematography accentuates so well), but she also pulls off the daunting task of portraying two different characters and make each of them distinctive. Weronika is a tragic character while Veronique is a hopeful one. Jacob has very expressive eyes that she uses to convey a romantic look but also is able to convey sadness as well. She has the capacity to convey a wide range of emotions that is absolutely fascinating to watch. She has a captivating screen presence that Kieslowski would explore further in Red.
This film features masterful use of lighting, especially in the way it bathes Veronique, at times an eerie neon green in some scenes and a warmer, amber tone in others. Kieslowski also presents some truly striking imagery, like Veronique looking at passing scenery on a train through a tiny super ball and it distorts the image like a fish-eye lens. Another striking scene is the puppet show that Alexandre puts on for an auditorium full of children. Kieslowski captures the wonderment in their faces as they are captivated by the show. The puppet show also features a tragic tale of the death of a talented artist – a dancer. The Double Life of Veronique is the epitome of a romantic film in the way Kieslowski lovingly shoots the cracked facades of ancient buildings in Krakow, the way Veronique wraps her arms around her boyfriend on his motorcycle and the way the autumn leaves are scattered on a city street. Kieslowski creates a specific time and place in this movie that is warm and inviting in an almost tangible way. It’s a romantic movie drenched in atmosphere evoking those crisp, autumn days when the leaves have all changed colour.
Criterion has gone all out with this edition managing to improve the already impressive MK2 region 2 release. There is a 64-page booklet that features an excellent collection of essays pertaining to the movie.
The first disc features an audio commentary by Kieslowski biographer Annette Insdorf. She points out that Kieslowski got his start making documentaries and that The Double Life of Veronique saw him moving into a “deeply poetic brand of cinematic storytelling.” She observes that the two main characters aren’t aware of each other except perhaps on an intuitive level and this is shown through visual cues or a kind of “visual rhyming” via reflections. Insdorf points out autobiographical elements in the movie, like how Weronika smokes and has a heart condition much like Kieslowski. Also, the deep bond between father and daughter mirrored the filmmaker’s own life. Insdorf, who contributed commentaries for Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy, delivers a thoughtful track with excellent insight and analysis that is very accessible.
Also included are three short documentaries that Kieslowski made – Factory (1970), Hospital (1976) and Railway (1980) along with The Musicians (1958) made by Kazimierz Karabasz, a great influence on the Polish director. These are interesting glimpses at Kieslowski’s progression as a filmmaker.
There is also “The U.S. Ending.” Miramax distributed the film in North America and its head, Harvey Weinstein, asked Kieslowski to make it less ambiguous. Included is this additional footage that provides a neater resolution.
The second disc starts off with “Kieslowski – Dialogue,” a 1991 documentary on the making of The Double Life of Veronique. There is lots of fantastic on-the-set footage of the man at work directing his actors. The director comes across as a very smart and humble man. He always thought that no one outside of Poland would see his films because they were “so provincial.” He talks about his approach towards filmmaking and what an actor must bring to the project. This documentary provides fascinating insight into the film and the filmmaker.
“1966-1988: Kieslowski, Polish Filmmaker” is a 2005 documentary that takes a look at his work in Poland. It traces his development as a filmmaker through the 1960s to the 1980s making short films, documentaries and feature films. Kieslowski worked at a time of great civil unrest in his home country with workers staging many strikes and this doc examines the state of the country and its cinema.
“Slawomir Idziak” is an interview with the film’s cinematographer. He mentions that the only way out of Poland in his day was as an athlete or an artist. He talks about the first time he met Kieslowski and how, initially, the director hated feature films and only wanted to make documentaries. Idziak mentions that many of Kieslowski’s collaborators weren’t thrilled with Jacob’s screen tests but when his daughter and her friends loved what they saw, the director realized he was making a movie for young people and that he had found the right person for the role.
Also included is an interview with long-time Kieslowski composer Zbigniew Preisner. He praises the director for being the down-to-earth type and talks about the challenges of being a composer in Poland.
Finally, there is a wonderful interview with Irene Jacob. She talks about the first Kieslowski film she saw and the first time she met him. It was an audition for The Double Life of Veronique and he asked her to improvise. It lasted all afternoon and she was thrilled just to work with him for that day. Two weeks later, he interviewed her and she got the part. Jacob speaks eloquently about working on the film, her technique and her experience with Kieslowski.