The Double Life of Veronique (Kieslowski, 1991)

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Watching The Double Life of Veronique, I can only describe my emotional experience, as a feeling that my skin was too tight. Even I’m not sure what that means exactly, but it certainly evokes that crawling emotional tug that at your very soul. It moves beyond simple emotional and intellectual appeal, reaching even deeper at something that is as mysterious as life itself. Is that what Kieslowski is exploring? I’m not entirely sure. What I remember from Trois Couleurs: Rouge was a fascination with the interconnectedness of life, the idea that our impact on each other is not miniscule, but crucial. Though made several years before, this film takes this idea to an entirely new level, presenting the idea that two lives and souls can be joined without ever knowing the other exists.

What can I say? One of those cases where a film pushes me back, and I am struck with awe. I am hit with the powerful confrontation of witnessing and experiencing something special and rare, even though I don’t quite grasp why or what is happening.

What struck me as the revelatory moment was perhaps Veronique’s sudden bout of melancholia, an incredible sense of mourning even though she hasn’t lost anything or anyone, at least nothing that she is aware of. It’s presented in an intimate scene, that though I’d say is very “warm”, is characterized by loneliness. It took me a lot longer to realise how much of the film is simply us watching Veronique live. It’s even rare that she would share the screen, or scene with anyone else. If she does, for the most part it’s passive or inquisitive. There is still a pervading sense of isolation. The comfort that she finds lies more in mysterious packages she receives in the mail, and a song that is not only eerily beautiful, but serves as a link to her loss. The audience knows why it holds such a powerful effect, which makes it’s use as a theme throughout the latter half of the film so affecting.

I think it’s in this that the film’s effect felt so profound, that same loneliness that’s familiar, even when surrounded. The little joys that make it surmountable, and the promise of happiness of love, however distant. Even though a very real part of Veronique dies, there is still a life to live. A life filled with discovery and surprises, and opportunity. I wonder, though… is that part really dead, or does it continue to live in through Veronique instead? Is she now occupying two souls instead of one?

There are many mirrors in this film, some reflect, and others shatter or distort. The only strong conclusion I can make about the film, is that it’s dealing with the soul, and it’s incredible possibilities. I don’t know what a soul is, I don’t even know if I have one, but The Double Life of Veronique makes me believe that one exists. Is that a strength? Or am I subscribing to a faith, that I’m not even sure I believe it? I don’t really understand, this film has left me confused and broken. I feel invigorated and saddened all at once.

What of the relationships? Sexual or otherwise, they hold grand importance in the life of our beautiful protagonists. The role of the father seems incredibly important, there is a non-existent mother in both cases, death was too soon for both. Both women seem to have a healthy sexual appetite, but some reviews/essays I read suggest a willing, or perhaps, unwilling allowance of dominance. I’m not sure if I agree, though there is certainly a submissive nature to each of them, almost a naivety. The relationships seem more to point to a wholeness, as at their height, allowing for a fullness that both lack. Veronique especially searching for someone to replace that emptiness she feels. I think it’s a natural yearning for connection and, what I can only conclude as a sort of need we have for others. The soul perhaps does not exist in one piece, and must be put together through the meetings and encounters we make. Maybe?

I don’t really know, I did like it.

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14 responses to “The Double Life of Veronique (Kieslowski, 1991)

  1. Excellent review. You seem to have saw much more deeply into the film than I did the first time I saw it. I think it’s about the intangible things that connect us as people. You can call it a soul if you want. Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed it, it seems. Your review makes me want to watch it right away.

  2. Soul and the “intangible” is the same thing more or less, your definition is longer, but more accurate. Hmmm… I loved it really, I don’t know if I saw deeper, I try to reflect and understand through writing, and this was a puzzle. Ideas would explode, but never to full fruition.. or soemthing.

  3. I suppose soul and ‘intangible’ are the same, though one word lacks the stigma of being associated with a belief system. And as far as this film is a puzzle, I don’t believe it’s one that can be solved. I’m glad you loved it, as you know it’s one of my very favorite films.

  4. This is true, that’s why I have a difficulty using it. Though I like the idea of a soul, it’s a good word.

    You solve Veronique, you solve the meaning of life :p

  5. Fuck trying to solve Veronique and this movie, I just like watching the concert hall scene over and over again. Perfection.

    Nailed the essence of another movie, Rouge. Well done :) You’re right, this movie’s a puzzle, but not like the one that Veronique has to solve with the audio tapes…you can try and try and try to figure Veronique out and what motivates her, but there’s no point, ‘cuz I don’t she knows. Even when she was getting closer and closer to the answer with the tapes and her encounter with the man who made the tapes, it solved nothing. She just seemed to…drift, the whole time, from nothing and towards nothing.

  6. You make me want to watch this movie. It has been on my top list of films I’ve wanted to see since the “Three Colors” are some of my favorite films of all time. I’m intrigued by your thoughts about the existence of a soul once you see this movie. The questions you raise are ones I suppose everyone must ask at some point in their life. The fact that a film makes you ask these questions even more and question your own being is wonderful. I was indeed touched at how much this film has effected you.

  7. Simon: Agreed, one cannot fully understand the film, you can try… but I don’t think you’ll ever succeed. It’s true about the drifting, and that’s what makes it all the more interesting. How can a film where so little is happening, how little engagement the protagonist may have be so incredibly spellbinding.

    Jeremy: You should see this! Especially if you liked Three colours (I’ve only seen Red myself…) They’re very good questions, and any film that evokes them so powerfully is good in my books.

  8. i found this quote from kieslowski on wiki and thought you might appreciate it. an interesting insight into his films.

    “It comes from a deep-rooted conviction that if there is anything worthwhile doing for the sake of culture, then it is touching on subject matters and situations which link people, and not those that divide people. There are too many things in the world which divide people, such as religion, politics, history, and nationalism. If culture is capable of anything, then it is finding that which unites us all. And there are so many things which unite people. It doesn’t matter who you are or who I am, if your tooth aches or mine, it’s still the same pain. Feelings are what link people together, because the word ‘love’ has the same meaning for everybody. Or ‘fear’, or ‘suffering’. We all fear the same way and the same things. And we all love in the same way. That’s why I tell about these things, because in all other things I immediately find division.”

  9. This is a terrific film and criminally underseen, given how popular the Three Colours trilogy once was. Kieslowski is such a subtle, understated film-makerit’s impossible not to be sucked in and nothing is ever black and white in his movies and generally you get far more questions than answers.

    I’m really glad that you liked it.

  10. Even if it’s underseen, it’s following is fairly passionate. I’m surprised it took me so long to see honestly, but I’m happy I got around to it when I did. His worlds seem almost devoid of judgement of characters and actions, and they’re driven by strong moral and existentional ideas, but rooted in even more overwhelming emotions… he’s a rare filmmaker indeed. I’ll probably see Blue in the near future.

  11. Pingback: 2008 in Review « House of Mirth and Movies

  12. Enthusiasts of the films of Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski (Blind Chance, Dekalog, The Double Life of Véronique, Three Colours Trilogy, etc) are invited to drop by my chatroom at the Brasserie Alizé on the anniversary of the director’s death, this coming Friday evening, 13 March 2009, from around 1800 UTC and throughout the weekend for those who don’t sleep much. Please pass on the invitation to others and hopefully see you there!

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