The Double Life of Véronique

The first time we see Polish soprano Weronika, rain is falling on her face as she sings. The Double Life of Véronique is unusually responsive to the weather; cinematographer Slawomir Idziak’s colour washes (a vivid green for street scenes, an orange that bathes Véronique as she lies naked in bed) have a shifting quality like that of organic light, giving the film the distinct feeling of being moved upon by weather systems, those vast dispersed networks which are global as well as personal. This meteorological sensibility heightens the film’s sense of simultaneity and difference; its ability to be in several places at once, but mean something different in each.

Early in the film, Weronika tells her father, “I feel I’m not alone in the world”; bemused, he replies, “You aren’t.” Her parallel, French schoolteacher Véronique, is on the other side of Europe, in possession of the same face and living a life invisibly moved upon by her Polish counterpart. Irène Jacob, who plays both women, was 24 at the time of filming; she went on to work with Kieślowski in Red, the final instalment of the director’s celebrated Three Colours trilogy, before his death in 1996, aged 54.

Jacob could not speak Polish well enough for the role and so her lines as Weronika were overdubbed with the voice of Polish actor Anna Gornostaj, as was her singing. Additionally, the film’s score is by Zbigniew Preisner yet is in the film attributed to Van den Budenmayer, a fictitious 18th-century Dutch composer created by both Preisner and Kieślowski. Preisner or Budenmayer’s E minor soprano solo as performed by Weronika reappears in Three Colours: Blue. The film’s music mirrors its plotting in its incorporation of external elements, as well as its wavering between the world of the film and beyond it. 

In the Three Colours films – Blue, White and Red – specific objects appear as talismans or visual metaphors, tethering characters to their pasts or casting shadows into the future. In The Double Life, a shoelace, a cassette tape and a marble also draw both Weronika and Véronique into a shared psychic world where things hum with animism, increasing the film’s sense of collapsing temporal and spatial borders.

The puppeteer who seems to know something of the two women’s unearthly connection is played by Belgian actor Phillipe Volter, but the marionette acts themselves were performed by American puppeteer Bruce Schwartz, notable for his rejection of the discipline’s traditional white gloves; Kieślowski, lingering on his bare hands, endows the character with a kind of knowing eroticism. Kieślowski’s grave, in Warsaw, is marked by a sculpture of two hands, framing a rectangle between them: the director sizing up his frame, or transfiguring what you see before you into another form.

The film is delicate and suffused with mystery, all the way up until its enigmatic closing moments. The film’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, added an additional ending for American audiences in an attempt to resolve some of the film’s ambiguity, an intervention widely regarded as both pointless and meaningless. “The last thing you want to do after a Kieślowski film is ‘unravel’ the plot,” wrote Roger Ebert. “It can't be done. If you try it, you will turn clouds into rain.” ◉

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