The Double Life of Veronique Review
The FilmThe film part of this review is copied from my review of the Criterion release
Krzystof Kieslowski said that the message of The Double Life of Veronique was "to live carefully". He tells the story of two women, the Polish Weronika and the French Veronique. Weronika's tale is told first and her story serves as a mystical lesson to the life of Veronique. The film does not try to explain clearly what connection these two tales have to one another but both the characters are played by Irene Jacob and presented as a thematic pair. To add to the connection the characters represent doppelgängers in more than physical appearance - they both possess unique singing voices and weak hearts, and they both have similar gestures such as playing with a shoelace or how they apply eye make-up. The characters do behave differently and it could be read that Weronika's impulsiveness and fear of commitment lead her to a place that Veronique avoids through learning from her double's example. Consequently, when the opportunity to prove her singing talent presents itself through a competition and a fateful concert, Weronika ignores her health. Unwilling to stop herself Weronika collapses, and the camera, which has been interchanging between her perspective and that of others, swings off as if it is flying from her body to somewhere, or someone, else. We are then in the company of Veronique having sex with a casual partner and having the experience changed by a sudden sense of being alone. Further insight follows and Veronique begins to do the things that perhaps Weronika should have. She finds herself strangely drawn to a marionette play where the dying central character rises again as a butterfly/angel and she is also transfixed by the puppeteer. Thus begins an intriguing game of romantic cat and mouse with Alexandre, the puppeteer, leaving clues for the curious Veronique. This game possibly leads to an explanation of her feeling of loss and the offer of some kind of recompense:
“They were both born on the same day on a different continent.....At two years old...one of them burned her hand on a stove. A few days later the other reached out to touch a stove but pulled back just in time”
The Double Life Of Veronique is a beautiful film about taking heed of the world around you as well as the messages that find their way to you through dreams, insights, and intimations of the spirit. Like many of the director's films, it is about how our lives are affected by more than we can ever understand and how we affect others the same way, it is a call for care for ourselves and for our fellows.
The film creates an unexplainable continuity between the example of the life lived by Weronika and the changes that Veronique is motivated to make. This quality of continuity is emphasised through the use of circular images and reflections and we are often shown views of the world through windows or objects like a glass marble. The story itself delights in tenuous chance and mystical motivation, inserting images from Weronika's life into Veronique's dreams and using daring often jarring juxtaposition throughout. For instance, the join between the two stories is so rough that until a character starts speaking French you are not sure that we have moved into the tale of Veronique. This lack of boundary between the two tales is deliberate with the whole point of the film being that what happened in Krakow can change what happens in France if only it is heeded. Some viewers find this mystic quality just too spiritual and too ambiguous, and some critics have decried the vaguery or the implied Catholic metaphors as being obscure and esoteric. It is hard to disagree that Kieslowski has made better constructed films, yet the simple beauty of this film and its naive central idea make it an engrossing experience. Kieslowski's later movies are a lot simpler to understand but Veronique marked a bridge between the darker Polish films and the more lyrical French films. This difficult quality works to make the viewer work harder than they have to in the Three Colours trilogy and I believe makes this work even more successful.
For myself I find the quality of the film to be rooted in how well it connects to the viewer through a personal frame rather than being an evangelical piece from a Catholic Pole. The film doesn't become an anathema to secular audiences as it chooses to emphasise personal rather than religious sensation - deja vu rather than a message from God, perhaps. The film encourages the viewer to completely enter the world of Veronique and to respect what she learns to understand. We are entirely with Veronique in the scene where she listens to the tape she has been sent and we hear nothing other than what she hears, even her own swallowing noises, and we share her desire to find out the secrets of the tape even though, like her, we already know where the answers lead. That these first person effects don't feel like bible bashing or the authorial influence gone too far is due to Kieslowski's sincerity and faith in his creation, and it is also because he fights any influences which don't tie his characters back down to earth. Kieslowski ensures that the world of the film is grounded by using images of ageing, mortality, and decay, and in making Veronique/Weronika real people rather than symbols. His documentarist's eye for telling gestures and details works very well in this respect as does his use of political background with the film firmly rooted in the downfall of communism beginning as it does with a statue of Lenin being removed from a public square.
The Double Life of Veronique is intriguing and ambitious, it succeeds in enthralling you in metaphysics and spirituality, but surprisingly keeps its feet on the ground throughout. It is the key film in Kieslowski's development from a parochial film-maker to an international master.
Technical SpecsThe film is presented in 1080P with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio and a frame rate of 23.98 per second. The blu-ray seems to be region free with 30.4GB of its capacity used, with just over 21GB of that given over to the transfer. In terms of colouring, hues follow the same pattern as in the standard definition release with their differences to the Criterion transfer already noted in other reviews. I would say that the number of filters and lighting effects becomes far more obvious in this high definition presentation with the uses of red, green, golden and blue effects that mark the moods of the film. Of course, further definition and detail increases the visual impact and the contrast is competently managed in order to not lose some of depth of the shadows for the most part, but I did feel that some shadow detail was not strongly represented in the sequence where Weronika has her first attack for instance. Edges and contours are perfectly rendered and grain is softly evident throughout. The image has not been sharpened too much but it does seem sharper than the standard definition release that Noel reviewed here(see the left panel for more details).
Extra FeaturesArtificial Eye replicate the same supplements from their standard definition release but this time present them in 720P. You get the same interviews with the director and Irene Jacob, and the shortish French made documentary which appeared before on the Criterion and MK2 discs as well.
The four short films are included, again in 720P, which include The Musicians, a film made by Kieslowski's mentor Kaziemerz Karabasz. The three following documentaries made by Kieslowski himself embrace a similar perspective of praising labour and effort whilst lauding the human and creative.
SummaryWith existing extras upgraded to 720P and a pretty nice transfer with fine sound, fans of Kieslowski will enjoy this presentation.This package is currently available only from HMV with a wider release planned for 22nd March 2010.
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