Criterion DVD Review – ‘The Double Life of Veronique’

     November 28, 2006

Reviewed by Andre Dellamorte

Dissecting the Interpretive Text

The problem (at least for a critic) with a dream-based narrative is that there is no one true definition. Even David Lynch’s dream narratives (including Mullholand Dr.) has something of a through line to grasp on to, but I would suggest that Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique is maddeningly, beautifully open to interpretation. Or that is to say, I’m not completely sure what to make of it.

Irene Jacob stars as both Weronika and Veronique. The first is a Polish girl who comes to a life of singing, though knowing that her heart is troubled when she belts one out. Though she has a lover and other people around her that she loves, she pursues this dream of performing that ends up killing her. Veronique is awakened to her doppelganger’s death in France while she is with a boyfriend. She meets a puppeteer, Alexandre Fabbri (Philippe Volter), whom she is curious about. She then receives messages from an unknown suitor, and is attracted to his abstract wooing methods, eventually finding that it is Alex who has been pursuing of her. Alex later presents Veronique with two dolls, both crafted after her visage, and suggests they are some sort of twins, but one with knowledge of the other without knowing it.

His perception is of course half true. On some sort of base level one could enter the text and suggest that it is the author (being Kieslowski) trying to seduce a woman through the power of text, which becomes so overwhelming that it creates its own reality- it’s hard not to tell a story of a puppet master without it being self reflexive on the real storyteller. But that may be my (and perhaps Kieslowski’s) desire to have sex with the nubile young Irene Jacob, who is stunning and overwhelming in one of her first starring ventures (she returned to Kieslowski for his Red), and the one that netted her a Cannes prize for best actress. Jacob is commanding, sensual, and breathtaking in the part – the film is very much about her being photographed expressing the spectrum of emotions and in various states of un/dress.

But in prescribing meaning, one has to go to the layer that could be about Kieslowski himself. With Poland no longer under Communism, his art would have to find outside benefactors, which may suggest that the pure artist could die in Poland, while France may offer a compromised life that may not offer such artistic rewards, but a life nonetheless. Then is the film’s autumnal glow the recognition of Kieslowski that his life (the director died in 1996, five years after the making) was coming to a close?

What about the ring? Veronique wears a ring for most of the movie. It is apparent that she isn’t married, as a part of a subplot involving her trying to cover for a friend’s cuckolding. Said ring disappears in the last shot with some sort of tattoo, or perhaps string in its place – was she married to the puppeteer? And what about the string, which seems to connect the two women? What does it mean? Or is a bottle of milk just a bottle of milk, and the ring and string signifiers simply suggest that there is a connection between the two women? Perhaps the ring is just there to connect their actions.

As I said at the start, I’m not entirely sure. But I suspect this film was influential on David Lynch (in both Lost Highway and Mulholland) and Wong Kar-Wai in its lusciousness. Perhaps also in Kieslowski’s method, which was not so much uncertain about the ending, but there was a thought of creating numerous iterations of the film, with marginal, though perhaps aesthetically separate versions of the film. That playfulness and freedom seems linked to WKW’s methods, and perhaps this film was a breakthrough for his own art.

The Criterion Collection has done an amazing job with the film, and is something sure to be a standout title in any DVD collection. On disc one is the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) and in 2.0 stereo surround. The disc comes with a commentary by Annette Isondorf, and short films, the first by Kieslowski’s teacher Kazimierz Karabasz entitled “The Musicians” (10 min,) and then three shorts by Kieslowski, 1970’s “Factory” (18 min.), “Hospital” (21 min.) and “Railway Station” (13 min.).

Disc two stars with “Kieslowski – Decalogue,” (52 min.) which covers the making of the film, and is followed by “1968 1988: Kieslowski: Polish Filmmaker” (31 min.), which dissects the man’s career to that point, while cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (24 min.), composer Zbigniew Preisner (21 min.) and star Irene Jacob (17 min.) offer their comments and tributes to their director.

Krzysztof Kieslowski

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