The Double Life of Veronique (La Double vie de Véronique) [DVD]
Director : Krzysztof Kieslowski
Screenplay : Krzysztof Kieslowski & Krzysztof Piesiewicz
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1991
Stars : Irène Jacob (Weronika / Veronique), Philippe Volter (Alexandre Fabbri), Sandrine Dumas (Catherine), Halina Gryglaszewka (The aunt), Wladyslaw Kowalski (Weronika's father), Jerzy Gudejko (Antek), Claude Duneton (Veronique's father)
An inscrutable mystery wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in an enigma, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s beautiful and haunting The Double Life of Veronique (La Double vie de Véronique) is a film of rich imagery and obscure meaning. It is either a lyrical meditation on identity or a bit of New Age-ish claptrap that wallows in its own inconsequence, and what the viewer brings to it will largely determine which it is. I like to think that it’s the former, with its tangled web of potentially frustrating mysteries drawing me back to the film again and again, like a beautiful poem that refuses to divulge its secrets with only a single reading.
The story concerns two identical women (both played by Irène Jacob), one of whom lives in Poland and one of whom lives in France. They look exactly the same and share many similarities--a gift for singing, a loving father, a potentially weak heart--yet each is unaware of the other’s existence beyond an undefined emotional connection. Their paths do cross one day in Krakow, where one of the women accidentally photographs the other during a political rally, but otherwise their lives are forged along separate paths connected only by an inexplicable emotional string (strings are one of Kieslowski’s favorite images in the film).
The first third of the narrative concerns the life of Weronika, the Polish woman, who is introduced singing in her school choir and eventually wins a coveted position singing with a great conductor (the music, which is supposedly 200 years old and recently discovered, is actually the work of frequent Kieslowski collaborator Zbigniew Preisner). The action abruptly shifts about half an hour into the film to Veronique, the French woman, who is a music teacher who happens to teach the same 200-year-old music that Weronika was singing. Veronique’s narrative arc follows her involvement with Alexandre Fabbri (Philippe Volter), a children’s book author and puppeteer who draws her into his world by sending her audio recordings that lead her to him.
Any plot description of The Double Life of Veronique, either brief or detailed, is destined to pointlessness because Kieslowski and his cowriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz (with whom he worked on many films) are less interested in the mechanics of narrative than they are in the exquisite details of emotion. Their stubborn refusal to answer many of the film’s most riveting questions and the enigmatic manner in which they approach the metaphysical connection between these physically identical women will be frustrating to some and liberating to others.
Once you allow yourself to drop the pretense of needing to “understand” everything, you are free to indulge in the sensuous textures of Slawomir Idziak’s gorgeous cinematography and Zbigniew Preisner’s rich musical score, not to mention the subtle nuances of Irène Jacob’s extraordinarily deft and moving performance (she was rightfully given the acting award at Cannes). You are also free to discover your own interconnections, perhaps finding that Kieslowski is less interested in the specific dynamics of how these two women are connected than in how we are all connected spiritually. His frequent use of mirrors and doubles gives the film a sense of constantly reflecting itself, which begs the viewer to look more carefully, much as the two women’s off-screen mothers do in the film’s opening moments.
Wedged in between his two masterpieces--the 10-hour television drama Dekalog (1989–1990) and the Three Colors trilogy of films (1993–1994)--The Double Life of Veronique may feel a bit slight to some viewers, even those who treasure Kieslowski’s other films. It is certainly a work of great emotion and mystery, one that rewards each viewer differently. Kieslowski understood this well, which is surely why he originally intended The Double Life of Veronique to have more than a dozen different endings playing in as many different theaters, thus suggesting to those who would see the film again and again both the arbitrary nature of constructed narrative and the importance of individuality.
|The Double Life of Veronique Criterion Collection Two-Disc Special Edition DVD Set|
|Audio||French/Polish Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||November 21, 2006|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The film looks, in a word, stunning. The high definition transfer was created by scanning the 35mm original negative on a Spirit Datacine in 2K resolution. It was then color corrected on a Specter Virtual Datacine and digitally cleaned up with the MTI Digital Restoration System. The attention to detail and the use of the best available film elements have paid off, giving us an image that is vivid, deeply saturated (lots of golden and greenish tones), and highly detailed. Judging by screen captures I have seen of the Region 2 French and British DVDs, the Criterion is superior, with better color and a brighter image. Because The Double Life of Veronique is as much about its music as its images, the soundtrack is of particular importance, and again the Criterion disc shines. The two-channel stereo soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the 35mm magnetic tracks and restored digitally. It sounds fantastic, especially when Zbigniew Preisner’s gorgeous musical score completely envelopes you.|
|There is something of a double-edged nature to the extensive number of supplements included on this two-disc set. On the positive side, it provides an impressive amount of context and background information on the film, Kieslowski’s career, and Polish cinema in general. On the down side, the comprehensiveness of it seems to suggest that this is the only Kieslowski film we can expect from Criterion (many have been crossing their fingers for Dekalog or the Three Colors trilogy for years). Nevertheless, the extensive supplements are all worth investigating and are indicative of the kind of quality for which Criterion has become known. |
The screen-specific audio commentary by Annette Insdorf, author of Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski, is one of the best of its kind: lucid, eloquent, and thoroughly informative. It is a must-listen for those who want a deeper understanding and appreciation of the film. Insdorf offers consistently fascinating analysis of the film’s underlying themes and symbolism, as well as intriguing historical and background information, including the tantalizing bit about how Kieslowski originally wanted the film to have 17 alternate endings, one for each of the Parisian movie theaters in which it was slated to open. There is an alternate ending provided on the disc, which tacks four additional shots onto the original ending at the insistence of Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein for the film’s U.S. theatrical run. It is included here, obviously taken from a full-frame video source, the lousy quality of which makes you realize just how good Criterion’s transfer of the film is. Also included on the first disc are three short documentary films by Kieslowski: Factory (1970), Hospital (1976), and Railway Station (1980), as well as The Musicians (1958), a short film by Kieslowski’s teacher Kazimierz Karabasz.
The second disc includes two documentaries. The first, Kieslowski - Dialogue (1991), runs 52 minutes in length and features a lengthy, in-depth interview with Kieslowski and rare behind-the-scenes footage from the set of The Double Life of Veronique. The interview and behind-the-scenes footage are great, but the documentary itself is a bit pretentious and tries to do too much. Much better is the half-hour French documentary 1966–1988: Kieslowski, Polish Filmmaker (2005), which traces both the history of the Polish cinema after World War II and Kieslowski’s career. The disc is rounded out with three interviews: actress Irène Jacob, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, and composer Zbigniew Preisner (the interview with Jacob appeared on both of the European DVD releases of the film, but the latter two interviews are new to this release). The insert booklet is particularly rich with insight: It includes new essays by Jonathan Romney, Slavoj Zizek, and Peter Cowie, as well as an excerpt from Kieslowski on Kieslowski. All told, a fantastic two-disc set and nothing less than we have come to expect from Criterion.
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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