Cinema is Truth: The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
By Brittany Alyse
“I feel that I am not alone. That I’m not alone in the world.”
THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE
Written by: Krzysztof Kieślowski & Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Directed by: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Two women, two countries, alike and different, with the same fate. This one is, without a doubt, a spellbinding masterpiece. There's mystery and intrigue, elements that feel both magical and surreal. It almost sends you in a dreamlike state upon watching.
When we first meet Weronika of Poland (Irène Jacob), a beautiful choir singer with a weak heart, she mystifyingly tells her father that she does not feel alone. That something is with her. She carries that feeling with her in her portion of the film, which is roughly about 30 minutes. Weronika is a shy, child-like woman. My favorite moment of hers is when, after a choir performance outdoors, it begins to rain and instead of fleeing for shelter like her peers, Weronika stands under the rain, letting it drench her, welcoming it.
Weronika is warned about her heart condition and she knows if she continues to pursue her career in singing, it might kill her. The one thing that brings her warmth and joy could literally destroy her. Could you imagine being in that situation? I can’t. I don’t think I could even try to stop myself from living, breathing and consuming film. So, I think I understand Weronika when she rebels against death and continues to sing. Weronika then auditions for an upcoming concert, immediately impressing the director.
While walking through the streets of Krakow, with news of the concert, her worsening heart condition, love and the feeling of someone else’s presence she still can’t shake, Weronika happens upon a protest. It is in that crowded town square that Weronika sees a woman who looks just like her. The woman takes photos of the crowd and riot squads, moving through the sea of people. Before Weronika can catch up to her, the look-a- like woman catches a bus and takes a seat in the back. The woman turns, snaps one last photo of the place she is leaving, and unbeknownst to her, of Weronika. In that moment, Weronika is the only one of the two of them that realizes the other exists. She has a huge otherworldly experience. One that she keeps to herself.
During the concert, Weronika sings. Her beautiful, enchanting voice captures the audience almost instantly. Then suddenly, in the middle of her song, Weronika collapses. Her weak, poor heart gives out mid-performance.
When we first meet Véronique (Irène Jacob) of Paris, she is in the midst of making love. Afterwards, she is confronted with a ominous feeling of grief and bursts into tears. At the same time in Poland, Weronika is collapsing on stage. As a result of the feeling that something is wrong with her, Véronique gives up her own singing career and becomes a music teacher for young children. She takes her class to see a musical piece composed by the same composer who worked with Weronika. The following day, Véronique admits to her father that she is in love. Trouble is, she’s in love with a man she’s never met.
We follow Véronique as she journeys through the strangeness of experiencing a loss which cannot be explained. A feeling that's bigger than just herself. She does things without understanding why she’s doing them, like scheduling a cardiogram, almost as if someone has warned her to do it. The camera follows her like a shadow around 1980’s Europe, covered in sepia tone, hypnotic. It’s a film you can get lost in, like a sort of voyeurism that you feel is almost wrong, but you can’t stop yourself from becoming invested.
At the school where she teaches, a puppeteer named Alexandre (Philippe Volte) catches her eye, and immediately they fall into a sort of closeness. She tells him, "All my life I've felt like I was here and somewhere else at the same time." As if she’s had an outside force that guides her. And she likes it, even if she can’t explain it.
One day, after they’ve made love in a hotel room, Alexandre confesses that he wants to get to know her better. Véronique then empties her purse and he begins to sort through the prints of the photos she took during her time in Poland. She stops on a photo of herself, but she knows it is not her. It’s not her because it can’t be; because she’s the one that took the photo, while sitting on a bus, looking back at the city she was departing from. It is then that Véronique understands: It’s Weronika.
Véronique muses at one point that she’s always sensed there was another, and that because of that someone, she has always known what to do. In this moment while studying the photo that seems so unnatural and natural at the same time, Véronique weeps.
Everything Weronika had gone through, Véronique has been fated to do as well, and Véronique nearly dodges all the bullets that Weronika has had to take. Does Weronika die so Veronique can live? I am a firm believer in fate. My heart says yes, because they are each other’s echoes.
I’m a dialogue sort of girl. I love when characters talk to each other. I love it even more when I hear a line and think, god damn, I wish I had wrote that. THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE is a film with minimal dialogue, and despite the fact that I adore dialogue, I love that this film didn’t have much of it. There’s a grander mystery to it all. A languid sort of visual storytelling that is equal parts haunting and lyrical.
This is a tale about two women, unaware of one another, and one of them unknowingly bases all of her decisions on the parallel encounters of her counterpart. The ideas in this film are so large, but the pace is a slow-moving one, filled with maturity and musing that is completely absorbing. A film like this is like fine art. It is an evocative piece about life and what we can uncover about the mysteries of life. A tale of longing and melancholy.
“I strongly believe that—the way we live and the things we do influence people around us whether we know them or not. The main theme of this film is ‘live more carefully’ because you don’t know what the consequences of your actions may be. You don’t know what they will do to people whom you know or don’t know. You don’t know how your actions may influence them. Live carefully, because there are people around you whose lives and well-being depend on your actions. This concerns all of us because the paths—these people and their destinies—cross each other all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. That’s what responsibility means to me—to live carefully and attentively. We should observe people around us and most of all ourselves.” - Krzysztof Kieślowski
Thank god for Kieślowski’s magnificent eye and his storytelling. I love the feelings his films give me, and what I feel for THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE is immeasurable.