What is a film? Put in its simplest terms it’s a string of images played back at high speeds that uniformly convey something to its audience. This often takes the form of a narrative in which the actions of the film perpetuate pacing and follow a narrative arc. Other times these images are used to convey some sort of truth about the human condition as fictional people simulate situations. It doesn’t matter what kind of film, every film uses its images to convey something. Therefore, when looking at any film it’s worth dissecting these images, whether from a technical, artistic or ideological angle.
The Double Life of Veronique is a film that demands an understanding of what is being seen, without it the film is reduced to an incoherent plot, irrational sequences and monotonously slow sense of pacing. The film almost entirely perpetuated by images. The dialogue is scarce and rarely does it involve any sort of exposition. Without grasping these images and what they are conveying, the viewer will be left perplexed. On a simple level one can appreciate the artistry of the cinematography and the craftsmanship of the camera work but even such sensibilities fail to make sense of this film.
The Double Life of Veronique the story of two women who may, in fact, be the same person. Weronika (Irene Jacob) lives in Poland and is a promising choir soprano. Veronique (also played by Irene Jacob) lives in France and teaches music at an elementary school. While both are different people, in different places the film supposes that the two are connected. Both feel a deep sense separation and loneliness despite the fact both have supporting fathers and passionate lovers. And yet somehow the two see to sense each other’s existence.
The way in which the film connects these two women is through images. The opening scene of the film is the two women as young girls. One is holding a leaf as he mother tells her to look closely; the other is looking through a magnifying glass, her face distorted by the glass. The leaf represents the pair’s connection to nature. At the emotional high of each character’s story both physically come into contact with nature.
The distortion of the magnifying glass encapsulates within it several ideas. The first is the sense of isolation. The most powerful scenes of loneness come when both are in the arms of their lover. The lovemaking scenes are shot distorted, placing something between us and them Both are shot as if the male is not there and both give a sense of claustrophobia, as if the two are trapped in their loneliness. There’s something powerful that in the moment when these women are physically connected to another person is when they are presented as the loneliest.
The first shot of the film is through the magnifying glass which flips the horizon upside down. This shot is mimicked later when Wernoika looks through a small rubber ball while on a train. As the train rolls through the city we see the exterior world through the rubber ball, which flips the image upside down. This creates the idea of a universe running parallel to the one we are observing. One interpretation of the film is that the two women are in fact the same woman who exists in two parallel universes.
These are just a few examples of the numerous ways director Krzysztof Kieslowski and cinematographer Slawomir Idziak craft the visuals to create meaning. Yet getting too wrapped up in interpreting the images is to lose sight of the fact that this film is breathtaking to look at. In this critic’s opinion this is the most beautifully shot film. Slawomir Idziack creates a haunting visual mood with a slightly off yellowish green. There’s a warmth and passion to the color of the film as well as a sense of haunting. It’s a distinctly vibrant style that makes every frame a trance upon the eyes.
In most films the visuals are used to push the story, in The Double Life of Veronique the visuals craft the story. At times the film seems more interested in setting a mystical, visual mood than it is at moving forward a narrative. But the attentive viewer will notice every scene has a point and is feeding you bits of information. Yet the film never explains anything that you see. A lot of movies tell, giving scene after scene of exposition and explanation whereas The Double Life of Veronique shows, allowing the viewer to figure it out for itself. The film demands multiple viewings. I myself have seen it a number of times and with each viewing I felt that I have peeled back another layer of mystery only to discover yet another beneath it. With each viewing the film becomes more mysterious and captivating ensuring that one more I will return to this cinematic puzzle and vainly try to grasp at the threads of what is The Double Life of Veronique.
© 2009 James Blake Ewing