10Films in no particular order– No.4 Double Life of Veronique

October 26, 2010

La double vie de Veronique (1991)
Krzysztof Kieslowski

I  don’t remember the first time I saw The Double Life of Veronique. It was probably the revue cinema in Peterborough… my habitual seat, near the front, left of center.  Whatever…

Double Life is not to everyone’s taste, but it is to mine. It’s not without flaws, especially: some of the acting is an embassaly earnest. (I rarely think of acting – compared to
directing, lighting, editing, etc – as a noteworthy topic. Unless, that is, its illusion is cracked by some ineptitude).

There is an real character to Double Life. The plot – built around a mystical connection between two strangers – seems to be told without the demand that it be
completely believed. It is, visually, intensely stylized. Like the a puppet show contained in the story, the film maker s have made no attempt to hide their hands.

Doub le Life is shot usin g coloured filters and ornamental lighting. So many scenes are bathed in richly coloured lighting that the few w hich are naturalistic seem oddly surreal… (I doubt that this was not calculated). When awakened by a late-night phone call, the lighting of Veronique’s face slowly increases as her grogginess lifts. The streets of Krakow are shot through grey-beige light. Other scenes are swamped in warm yellow-gold and an oddly beautiful green.

Camera-motion is kept short of a gimmick… the gaze o ccasionally follows a character’s vision, tilt ing and in one case, f alling to the floor.

Almost all movies confine any abstract visuals to behind the opening credits. In Double Life, the screen dissolves into a several abstract shots and short passages. Intense eroticism is amplified by a close camera and the blurred results of an extremely short focal length… like eyes struggling to focus.

The plot manages to peek and then hold my interest and curiosity. (Again, this is unusual. Like acting, I most often find plot to be of only minimal interest… not infrequently an excuse to keep the film rolling).

The plot of Double Life manages to be both subtle into grandiose,

The plot is decorated with visual symbols and meticulous self-references. Sometimes cryptic, these are not essential to the story and usually avoid tackiness, choosing instead to allow its audience to miss, or manage to notice them. They are always unimportant enough to the story to avoiding turning the film into a frustrating exercise in puzzling… but relevant enough for them to enrich repeat viewings.

Besides storyline, the plot devotes its attention to themes of love, companionship and solitude. Veronique quits singing (breaks with teacher). Veronika goes to Krakow to visit her aging Aunt, leaving behind her lover. Both Veronique and Veronika have tender, loving relations with their fathers and have lost their mothers. When we first meet Veronique she is making love to a man who, minutes later, she does not allow to stay. The subplot involves a lie about intimacy. A character turns the pursuit of intimacy into a game. There are co-incidences between characters who never meet. A hotel room is oddly furnished with two single beds pushed together. The story has Veronique, in several different senses, looking at herself. And finally: most central of all, there is the mystical link between (French) Veronique and (Polish) Veronika.

The ending of Double Life was re-edited for release in the US. It’s actually not terrible (such things, of course, are plenty to provoke a cringe). This alternative ending does not even destroy the closing of the original version. It does, however, wrap what is the film’s most cryptic moment within a bit of extra narrative. This makes it more palatable to anyone who does not like the unsettling feeling that they may have missed something.  On one hand,  Kieslowski is to be admired for creating a film so rich and complex while not poking his audience with that irritating feeling. I think audiences should feel curious, not taunted.
…still, I prefer the original ending.


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