Double Life Of Veronique, The (1991)


Not to be mistaken for it's Times Square counterpart The Double Ds of Veronique
Not to be mistaken for its Times Square counterpart The Double Ds of Veronique

Genre: Drama Romance (France, Poland, Norway)

Starring: Irène Jacob (Trois Couleurs: Rouge; Othello), Jerzy Gudejko (Avalon).

Directed By: Krzysztof Kieslowski (Three Colours trilogy; The Decalogue)

Overview:  The Polish Weronika leaves an indellible mark on the French Veronique.  This is the story of how the lives of these two women who would never meet have an impact on one another.

Krzysztof Kieslowski has a style of filmmaking - in this and The Declaogue at least -  that is hard to swallow for many reasons. Firstly he can be brutally violent and  heart-wrenchingly bleak.  Living in Poland will do that to you, fine.  He is neither of these things in The Double Life of Veronique, so you're safe on that front. The other thing Kieslowski can be attributed with is having a very realistic pace to his films, a drama that is everyday, and for as many words I use to describe it in a positive light, that usually means slow. 

I took Hitchcock's view to heart when he said  "What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out?" I like films that aren't simply two people in bed talking, even if one of them is naked while she's in said bed.

While being glad that I saw The Double Life of Veronique, it had more of an appeal on a completist level and for as much as it was a decent character study, it wasn't brilliant.

The premise here is that each person has a double, in Weronika's / Veronique's case, right down to the name. When a major event occurs in Weronika, the Polish one's life, it changes Véronique profoundly, makes her contemplative, makes her change her plan in life, and inspires her to discuss this feeling with those around her.

Each, deep down, knows the other exists.  Even though they never meet, the effect is the same as the "twins separated at birth effect", for example they're both into music.  The major problem I had with this tale is how I expected it to be more mirrored.  We don't explore nearly enough the effect of Véronique's life on Weronika, and instead we delve ad nauseam into the profound effect the Polish Weronika had on Véronique. 

Those familiar with Kieslowski's shooting style can certainly appreciate his streak here, and for as 'beautifully muted' as it is, I personally found it too slow for my liking.

This is the scene where she sees her enhanced American sex-trade counterpart...
This is the scene where she sees her enhanced American sex-trade counterpart...

Overall Rating: 72% (A Double Viewing Is Required - But Not Recommended)

Kieslowski is also a man who relies heavily on symbolism to convey his story, and The Double Life of Veronique is one of those films that need another viewing or two to truly comprehend not only fully, but properly.  There are very few films I will watch again when I found it slow the first time.  Lost Highway, Fight Club... these are two of the very infrequent repeated viewings the film inspired in me, but only because mysteries revealed required me to explore their hints throughout the film. 

Can't win 'em all I guess...

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Did you miss the exploding truckful of dynamite in the square in Krakow?

The fantastic scene where some guy in a cafe tries to empty both barrels of his shotgun into Veronique's brains because he confuses her with someone else, but she manages to escape from him?

The bit where the helicopter plows into the side of the car in the Parisian street which tears out the fuel tank, which sprays onto a dozen pedestrians, and then bursts into flames, killing them all?

The car chase where Veronique tries to escape from the guy who sends her things but she skids and crashes into a streetlight, goes through the windscreen and starts bleeding from her neck but he manages to kick the door in and rescues her from the burning inferno just in time?

No? I'm sure Kieslowski wanted to be a great Hollywood director but for some unknown reason, he must have edited all the best bits out and left a movie with nothing for enjoyment or enlightenment, unlike that absolutely awesome movie: Fight Club...

Er... the enlightenment is personal, 'human' yes and I very much enjoyed The Decalogue

That being said, the explosive parts of Fight Club were actually my least favorite, cool as they were, as they took away from the anti-consumer message I found so refreshing.

I wouldn't want Kieslowski to be more Hollywood, but I would want him to be more von Trier... a zing in the characters and moral lessons, rather than a character study with a gimmick.

A character study with a gimmick? That's possible if the film was particularly about two girls, one French and one Polish. Or about the European unification of Poland and France. But what if the film was meant as a general example about what connects people (pain, loss, sadness, justice, joy, a need for meaning in life) rather on what divides people? For example, room 281 in The Double Life Of Veronique.

Kieslowski may have been asking his audience to think what they might have in common. He sure had no set answers or morals to teach them. He had little idea himself where he was going, let alone teach anyone else how to live. Kieslowski was full of questions about himself. He was always searching because he didn't know the answers. He asked his sound engineer, the actors and actresses on set: "What do you think should come next?" and one thing would stay in the scene and one thing dropped and so it would go on like that. He seldom did two takes. Most were done on the first. The original script was only loosely followed. He would lie on the floor in front of Irene and be close enough to hear her breathe. If he could get inside her brain to listen to her thoughts, he would. He wanted to get closer to the inner not the outer person presented to the world. He suggested to have 17 endings to the film and show the film in 17 theatres in Paris then sitting in the audience to watch their different reactions before his co-writer managed to talk him out of it.

He took this idea of what connects people further, in a later film, Three Colors Red.

That's actually a very interesting tidbit. 17 endings! I guess it just wasn't cost effective - but neither is sitting there asking the staff on shooting day what should happen next...  can't win 'em all I guess. It's an interesting approach to filmmaking.

Maybe he was excited that he had money for the first time to spend that he got carried away with the possibilty of shooting more than one take, something that would never be affordable or permitted in Poland during the previous administration!

Even after rewarding himself with a large crate of cigarettes he still had most of the budget left over after the film. Remember he was used to making films in Poland where there was only so much stock allocated for film.

He would also be unconventional in that he was known to give an elderly person on the set a lift home or help the sound engineer bring in the gear and sound cables from the van and help set it up.

Anyway, feel free to browse the Mar 2007 archives of Weronika's World for any more tidbits of interest! Incidentally, by the time Camera Buff was made, Kieslowski had just started to understand what the buttons do ;-)

One tip: When you watch Kieslowski go to a small theatre with only three people in the audence, make sure you've got a couple of hours to kill and keep your mobile turned off, otherwise you'll start to think you've missed something if it goes off!

Bye for now.

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