The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

thedoublelife4Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique fills an ethereal world full of dancing light, soft hues, and faint reflections. It’s beautifully muted visuals complement a wonderfully mysterious story. Its title suggests the potential of a story about one woman living two varying lifestyles, one respectable, the other not. Instead, the film revolves around two women living parallel lives. Neither is shameful or noticeably corrupt. They are both sweet individuals with aspirations that drive their lives. They desire love and commendation like many of us.

The first is named Weronika, a Polish beauty, who is an up and coming operatic performer. While her star is on the rise, she meets a new boyfriend and goes a trip to visit her aunt. But everything goes back to the music. In fact, music often takes center stage totally enrapturing us in song. There are sublimely haunting melodies that pierce right through our core. The angelic voices are gracefully wafting through the chambers of cathedrals and music halls. And just like that the breathe is gone out of one of the angels for good. We get a hint at it from Weronika’s aunt, suggesting that all their family members died unexpectedly, but there’s no more explanation.
The majority of the narrative follows French music teacher Veronique, who is the spitting image of her Polish counterpart. Except they have no relationship whatsoever, only some odd intuition that there is someone else out there who they do not fully know. As we observe the daily rhythms of this young woman’s life, it feels almost otherworldly with an unearthly golden glow that illuminates the streets she walks. It’s a film where marionettes are made graceful and bouncy balls are little orbs of wonder. Along the way, Veronique finds a love of her own that she doesn’t even know. But she’s enchanted by him and the magic that surrounds him, much as we are bewitched by her. Her lover is constructing two identical marionettes in order to tell a new story about two women with a connection that cannot be described. In other words, the mythos around his narratives, tread closely to Veronique’s own life. A girl in one of her photos makes it clear. Everything comes to a fitting full circle, and yet we get little in the realm of a fully gratifying ending.

thedoublelife2More often than not Kieslowski’s film has a mesmerizing effect on me and a  great deal of that power of entrancement is due to Irene Jacob. She is like a cinematic goddess with a face made to be scrutinized. A charming classical beauty, she exudes a range of emotions, while still managing to hold onto a semblance of mystique. Jacob is a wonderful muse for the director’s purposes and she would prove so again in Three Colors: Red. But that’s another conversation entirely.

I consciously ask myself, “Is this a film even to be understood?” Because the plot points and the pieces don’t always seem to fit together especially well when you actually consider them. And somehow I remain content in that reality. Whereas someone like Michelangelo Antonioni throws away a few pieces of the puzzle for good measure, for Kieslowski these final pieces never existed. They are not paramount to what he is trying to accomplish. The Double Life of Veronique maintains such a transcendental almost spiritual quality because we can only watch and listen. Ours is not to reason why ours is to simply look on in awe at what we are witnessing. The beauty, the enigma, and the feelings. Because Kieslowski is more interested in the essence of the film than the particulars.

4.5/5 Stars

Three Colors: Red (1994)

 3a286-threecolorsred3Kieslowski’s films are mostly character driven and yet he often uses high drama to create a far more complex lens to observe his subjects. In Blue, the inciting incident was a deadly car accident. It seems only fitting that he would end this story with the catastrophic sinking of a ferry. He takes the same bleak, no-nonsense approach with little fanfare that he used before. It’s his way.

In fact Three Colors: Red as a whole is another simplistic film in plot, and yet the irony is that the film is chock full of complexity because its major point of interest is interpersonal relationships (as suggested by the intertwining phone lines shown early on). There is nothing more tangled and intricate about humanity than our relationships.

As such, this final installment is in many ways a story about love, romance, and friendship, and yet Kieslowski does not find it necessary to preach to us. He is better and more thoughtful than that, laying out the story for us to ponder and mull over. This is the story or better yet the parable he created.

Valentine (Irene Jacob) is a young student and model who is constantly an innocent and sympathetic figure with a pair of doe eyes. She is often shown in profile which continually reveals her youthful and even sullen beauty. She is even the somber poster girl of a gum campaign plastered around town. There’s a boyfriend in her life who she desires the affection of, and then there’s a brother who is hooked on drugs. In other words, life is far from rosy and secure.

One day she accidentally runs over a dog that she takes to the owner (Jean-Louis Trintignant,) who seems surprisingly unconcerned by the event. She does the only thing she can do with a clear conscious which is taking the dog to the vet and then taking care of it herself. Soon after, Valentine finds herself walking the dog by the old man’s house once more and she discovers what he does all day. It turns out he is a retired judge, and he spends his solitary existence eavesdropping on the conversations of others (including Valentine’s neighbor Auguste).

Later, through the grapevine, she finds out that a retired judge had a suit filed against him, and she rushes to his house to assure him she had no part. He already knows because he was the one who turned himself in.

Over the next days, Valentine begins to empathize more and more with Mr. Kern’s existence. As a former judge, he was forced to make decisions far more difficult than most. In fact, why do people follow laws? Is it out of goodness or purely self-serving? Is morality all relative? What really is good and bad, because how would we act in the other man’s shoes? By this point, we see Kern’s struggle a little better.

Finally, Valentine invites her new found friend to her last fashion show before she heads to England for a few weeks. It’s a touching moment when he pays her a visit after the show, but it also reveals the pain in the old man’s past. It may be a lucky guess but all we know is that Valentine figures him out. It just shows that you cannot judge others by first impressions.

So as it goes, Auguste’s life practically mirrors that of a younger Kern, and thus, so many parallels become evident. Aside from the obvious, I only figured it out after the film was done, but they are both judges, struggle in love and the like. At the end of the film when Kern sees the news about the ferry with Valentine and Auguste aboard, the only thing we know for sure is that there were seven survivors (guess who!). In a somewhat subtle way, the trilogy is connected and Kieslowski ends his tale on a fitting note. It freezes and just like that the career of one man was done for good. A couple years later he would already be gone. But he went out on top and Three Colors cemented his legacy. I always loved the color red the best. Here’s yet another reason why.

4.5/5 Stars