The Double Life of Veronique November 19, 2016
I perpetually feel as though I’m in several places at once. In my reality is it easy to oftentimes find a trite mundanity, the existence of a routine sometimes comforting, sometimes terrifying, sometimes euphoric, and sometimes predictable. But in my fantasies, my daydreams, and my yearnings for the past do I find thousands of dreamworlds in which I’m simultaneously living. In some I’m young again, overwhelmed with curiosity and excitement, self-control little. In some I’m older, living a life I’m scared of living.
And yet I most frequently see someone who looks exactly as I do now, reliving situations of the past or practicing the handling of situations to be seen in the future. Occasionally, I see him struggling to express himself. Sometimes, I see him masquerading as a hell raiser, a rowdy truth-teller that likes to play with fire and exclusively speak his mind. But most often do I see Blake as he really is (though my perception of Blake As He Really Is is unrelentingly changing and impossible to solidly understand).
One’s sense of self is a smattering of complexities and contradictions — definitively does identity depend on a given situation; definitively are there multiple versions of ourselves wandering around different realities, some of them masters of decision making and some of them nincompoops instilled with regret.
Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Double Life of Veronique (1991) explores those mysteries and multifaceted projections of identity provocatively but never concretely. Disinterested in finalizing its ideas encompassing what it means to be human, it prefers to capture the enigmatic beauty of human nature, utilizing the “double life” of its eponymous heroine(s) as a catalyst to wander through the confusions of love, of living. Here is not an intellectual, emotionally driven statement analogous to the works of Ingmar Bergman but a cinematic mood piece a la Michelangelo Antonioni. The right kind of arcane, it doesn’t invite us to decipher but to ponder. This is the sort of filmmaking that lingers in the memory, haunting in its images and unsettling in its atmosphere.
The film stars the staggeringly gorgeous Irène Jacob as two women, the Polish Weronika and the French Veronique. Identical, in their twenties, and unaware of each other’s existences until an accidental spotting of the other on the part of Weronika, both live disparate lives that differ in their drive but compare in their attentiveness to music, to love, and to longing. Their connection, and their homogenous physicality, is unclear.
Weronika is an aspiring opera singer who dreams of rising in the ranks of her profession, whereas Veronique, perhaps less naive, is a music teacher overpowered by inexplicable grief and a desire for a man she’s never met.
The film’s first half is dedicated to following Weronika as she goes about her daily life, coming abruptly to a halt after success quite literally spoils her like her very own Rock Hunter. The second revels in the allurement that is Veronique, who was only briefly focused upon during the first act as a sight seen from afar.
Wisely avoiding the more obvious storytelling method of switching back and forth between the lives of these women, Kieślowski presents Weronika as an unaffected spirit of youthful cheeriness whose randy optimism unpredictably ends up getting the best of her; Veronique, by contrast, is never seen in that same unassuming light. We only see her mystifyingly overcome by agony, constantly reeling from a feeling of sadness that inarguably seems to stem from the fate of Weronika, despite their never having really met.
Whether Kieślowski is going for Persona (1966) imitations — with its literal representations of one person comprising several identities — isn’t much on our minds as we watch The Double Life of Veronique, however. In viewing are we more struck by the translucent, Monica Vitti reminiscent presence of the ethereal Jacob, by the sumptuous glow of Sławomir Idziak’s photography, and the overarching tonality of a mystery. To understand it is akin to understanding David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001) — the less you try to deconstruct the more you find yourself thoroughly possessed by it. The film works on our senses, on our sights. Maybe our minds, too, though it’s best enjoyed when letting it wash over you rather than when pushing its intoxications away in favor of analysis.
Perhaps overreaching in The Double Life of Veronique is the idea that identity is the one aspect of a person’s existence that changes on a daily basis — we’re everlastingly altered by our experiences, by our relationships. Perhaps Weronika and Veronique are one person dwelling in alternate realities, with the former being the more idealistic version that got lucky (and then unlucky) and the latter being the one that listened to practicality rather than her heart. But I’d rather not sit here and strive to uncover what Kieślowski was going for; its questions, all unanswered, are what make it eternal. A-