Flashback 10 years ago to me in college at The University of Illinois. When I wasn’t in the classroom, I was spending lots of time watching films. I remember spending a great deal of time at the Urbana Public Library perusing their massive collection of VHS tapes, which included an incredible volume of classic American and foreign films. Many of the first viewings I had of films by Bergman, Godard, Bunuel etc. occurred because I rented these videos, often by the dozen at a time from the library. And they were free! I distinctly remember the day that while flipping through their titles, I was going through the “D” section and I came across The Double Life of Veronique. Thinking back, I’m pretty sure I had seen The Three Colors trilogy, but was completely unaware of this film. Criterion hadn’t yet picked it up. It wasn’t on Roger Ebert’s Great Film list yet. Blogs weren’t yet discussing the virtues of films like this. Even Leonard Maltin’s book only gave it 2 ½ stars out of 4. I remember looking at the cover, though, and thinking wow this looks like something I should see, but not having any expectations at all for what it would be like. It would turn out to be one of the most significant film viewings I would ever have.
Kieslowski’s film regards the story of two women, both played by Irene Jacob. Weronika lives in
and aspires to have a great singing career. Veronique lives in Poland and decides to not pursue a particular talent (perhaps singing), but is instead a music school teacher. These women are presented to us as having a cosmic connection of sorts that we can't fully understand. The film is an examination of the spiritual, emotional, and physical connections between the two women, and a working out of the concept of these women either being two separate beings connected supernaturally, or perhaps the same woman living two separate lives. This interconnectedness of life is of course something that Kieslowski would explore and refine further in his more literal and political The Three Colors Trilogy which would follow this film. What sets The Double Life of Veronique apart is that Kieslowski attempts to let his story unfold relying almost solely on images, music, and emotions, which all but take the place of explanation and dialogue in this film. It's not dialogue here that you remember, it's the images and feelings that overwhelm you. France
I distinctly remember watching the film back then in 2002. I was blown away by the look of the film, with its odd color palette of yellows, greens and reds. Its very nature screamed of an incessant yearning to convey an ineffable set of themes, emotions, and desires. I was humbled and inspired by Kieslowski’s story, Slawomir Idziak’s cinematography, and Irene Jacob’s luminescent performance. My college-age uncertainties and fears were inexplicably met and eased by the transcendentally sensual nature of the film. It didn’t really matter that I didn’t understand it. In fact, I didn't really want to understand it. This made it all the more alluring. I wanted to disappear into it, be absorbed by it, and remain lost in its swirl and never return.
But I have returned to see it again, something I did recently for the first time in 10 years. A lot has changed in those 10 years. Criterion has it now. Roger Ebert has included it on his list. It has gained in stature, whereas in 2002, I felt like the only one who knew about it. Watching it again so many years separated, I was pleased to learn that it still maintains a significant power for me. In fact, watching it this time on DVD I was really struck by just how visually overwhelming it is. Rarely does a minute go by without a unique visual style or theme coming to the fore. As much effort as most films spend on dialogue or action, this film spends twice the effort on visual composition and innovation. Idziak’s cinematography employs yellow filters, which give the film its unique color palatte, creating lots of shades of green and yellow. Recurring motifs of upside down images, duplicated images, and the instances of “emotional establishings” (as Idziak puts it in one of the DVD’s supplements) or shots presented unrelated to the action in order to establish an emotion, are often jarring, but are always absorbing and essential to the way the film works. Of course, Zbigniew Preiner's remarkable score adds tremendous depth and emotional punch to the images that flash by. For those who care, this film also contains a great deal of relatedness to The Three Colors Trilogy regarding images and themes that pop up in those films.
I haven’t even yet discussed much about Jacob’s performance, which is rather remarkable for the way she brings the film’s emotion to life. There really isn’t much exposition to help us understand Weronika/Veronique, but we don’t need to know because Jacob helps us understand what is essential without needing to say anything. She embodies and reflects the ambition of the film to convey a feeling and emotion with a modicum of explanation. Sometimes, movies feel more like experiences and this is one of those experience-type films for me. It's also one of my top 25 favorite films. There just isn't anything else quite like it.