Wednesday, February 1, 2012

100 Movies - No. 31: The Double Life of Veronique

31. The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
Drama, Fantasy, Music, 98 minutes, French and Polish Language
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Starring Irene Jacob and Philippe Volter

I didn't say much about this film when I talked about my Top 20 Dramas, and I'm reluctant to do so now in case I ruin the experience for anyone considering watching it for the first time. It's hard because it sparks all kinds of thoughts, makes me cry, and leaves me feeling like I entered another world.

The film is probably the most beautiful I have ever seen. The color palette is rich and places an emphasis on reds, greens and yellows. There are many instances of images viewed through things which distort reality: a clear plastic ball, mirrors, windows, reflections in glass and also a magnifying glass.

Music is a huge part of the experience, whether it's happening in the story or part of the soundtrack.

The first 30 minutes of the story concerns Weronika. She is Polish and a gifted singer. Weronika is so in tune with life that it's painful. When she sings, there is pure joy visible on her face. She ignores outside distractions such as pouring rain because she's so caught up in the moment. She makes love the same way.

***Spoiler Alert***

Unfortunately, Weronika has a heart problem and drops dead while performing at a recital.

The film switches locations and we find ourselves in France with Veronique. She appears identical to Weronika and both women are played by Irene Jacob. Veronique seems to sense Weronika's death, although she can't pinpoint why she is feeling a sense of loss.

This is a film about connections and feelings. Are we alone in the world or are there people somewhere just like us? Do we share any kind of connection? Is any of this controlled by some higher power, or are events simply random? The "coincidences" in this film are too frequent for everything to be random, aren't they? Room 287, a plastic ball, a ring, a shoestring, loving fathers and absent mothers, and probably a few things that I completely missed.

Kieslowski doesn't tell us what any of this means. We don't know whether the two women are related or twins separated at birth. It doesn't really matter why any of this happens. The film is intended to make us think and feel, and it succeeds very well.

I often wonder whether Jean-Pierre Jeunet was thinking of Veronique when he created Amelie. Although one is completely serious and one is a comedy, both contain elaborate scenes in which one character encourages another to seek them out. France features in both films and the color palette's are similar. 

I can't make a sweeping recommendation. This is the kind of film for people who like to contemplate the meaning of life and their own existence. The narrative meanders along and there are no clear answers or startling resolutions to the story. It just is.

If you like The Double Life of Veronique:

One of the first things I did after seeing the film was seek out other works by Kieslowski. Criterion recently released the Three Colors Trilogy on Blu-ray and fans of Veronique will almost certainly enjoy the trilogy. It's best to see them in sequence: Blue stars Juliette Binoche, White stars Zbigniew Zamachowski and Red stars Irene Jacob. Red in particular will appeal to fans of Veronique because it touches on similar themes and Jacob gives another captivating performance. The three films are loosely tied together in a scene at the end of Red, so that's why I suggest seeing them in order.

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