Originally Written and Posted on 11/27/05 with New Edits & Additional Content
After taking part in the ambitious, 10-part miniseries of shorts and mini-feature films based on the 10 Commandments called The Decalogue, Polish director Kryzsztof Kieslowski noticed the political change in his native Poland in the late 80s. After years of communist rule, Kieslowski decided to relocate to France for financial reasons where he was given a chance to direct his next feature. A drama about two different women from Poland and France who have the same face, born on the same day, and have the same face in a strange, existential drama entitled La Double Vie de Veronique (The Double Life of Veronique).
Written with longtime screenwriter partner Kryzsztof Piesiewicz, La Double Vie de Veronique is a film that links two different women with similar traits and personalities with the same names of sorts, Veronique in France and Weronika in Poland. Playing both women in the title role is Irene Jacob in her breakthrough international role. Playing two different women with different points in their lives, Kieslowski's harrowing and mysterious existential drama is filled with cerebral and highly emotional moments. Also starring Phillipe Volter, Sandrine Dumas, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Alexander Bardini, and Jerzy Gudejko. La Double Vie de Veronique is a powerful, cerebral drama about two women who might be one soul.
In 1966, two babies were born in different places but have the same eyes and faces. One was a girl named Veronique in France and another was named Weronika in Poland. Now it's 1990 as Weronika is a singer in Poland who lives a happy life while yearning to make her dream as a opera singer to come true. After talking with her boyfriend Antek (Jerzy Gudejko), her aunt (Halina Gryglaszewska), and her own father (Wladyslaw Kowalksi), Weronika vies to audition for a prestigious spot for an upcoming opera. With her enchanting soprano voice, she catches the ear of the orchestra's conductor (Alexander Bardini), she lands an audition. Then on the day when she is walking in the middle of a city amidst a political protest, she sees a group of tourists and a young woman who looks exactly like her. The sight of a that young woman brings a lot of anxiety for Veronika as she waits for the day of her audition in which, she passes. After meeting Antek, her aunt and her father, she performs on that faithful night when something happens that changes everything.
Around the same time in France, Veronique begins to feel a moment of grief. Already having problems with a series of men including a boyfriend and her father (Claude Duneton), Veronique talks with her professor (Thierry de Carbonniere) to announce that she's decided to quit singing. Deciding to teach music instead, Veronique is about to set up her class when she notices a puppeteer/novelist named Alexandre Fabbri (Phillipe Volter) is going to perform that day. The play she sees with fellow teacher Catherine (Sandrine Dumas) was about a dancer whose dream of dancing is shattered after her leg is broken only to become a butterfly in the end provides an existential question for Veronique about this wave of grief.
After a conversation with her father about her mother, she announces to him that she's in love with someone she doesn’t know or met with. Suddenly, objects begin to come to her including a shoelace, a marble, and the result of her cardiology result which reveals that she too has anxiety problems with her heart. When Catherine asks her help with a problem she has concerning Alexandre, Veronique decides she'll do it only to learn more of Alexandre’s involvement. After reading his novels and learning about his whereabouts, she decides to try and meet him. Upon their meeting, they see a destroyed car in the cafe at a train station as she isn't sure what this meeting means. The meeting becomes disastrous at first but they decide to meet again at a hotel where she reveals him the objects he's given her. Then Alexandre notices a picture where Veronique discovers the source of her grief as she tries to look for answers.
While the film's existential and coincidental feel would later play a part in Kieslowski's landmark European trilogy of Trois Couleurs (Three Colors) especially the last part in Rouge (Red) that ultimately became his final film that also starred Jacob. It's a subject that is universal to him since the story is really about two women discovering about the idea if they have another person that's inside them but on the outside is from another world. While his screenplay with Piesiewicz is filled with moments of mysterious and questionable views on life. It's an existential film where it asks more questions rather than gives answers as it ends on a somewhat, ambiguous note but not in a sentimental tone. Still, the structure in the screenplay from the first act being about Weronika and the second act about Veronique's newfound grief and the third being her exploration works on many levels.
On a directing scale, Kieslowski doesn't use just the areas and his protagonist to tell the story but objects play a really important to what Kieslowski is trying to say. From the shoelace to the references of heart conditions, marbles, puppets, and music that brings the existential connection of the two women. Using mostly hand-held camera, Kieslowski brings a wonderful perspective to the film making the audience aware of what is going on and to the fact that the story doesn't lose its place where they know where they are and what is happening. It's some of the most inspiring directing from the late Polish filmmaker.
Helping Kieslowski in his visual scope and camera work is Slawomir Idziak who brings an orange, yellowish look to the movie. Using filters to conveys the emotions and tone of the film in whatever place it's in. Idziak also brings a greenish and absorbing look to some sequences, especially with the use of the marble in the film which features some of the best camera work conceived in European cinema. The locations for Poland and France are inspiring while the production design of Patrice Mercier conveys the different worlds of the two women in its small and intimate apartments that they live in. Helping the film in the editing department is longtime Kieslowski collaborator Jacques Witta whose solid work in editing gives the film a nicely paced feel while being aware of the film's unconventional structure that works on all levels.
Another noted Kieslowski collaborator whose work is prominent is composer Zbigniew Preisner whose orchestral score brings a lot of drive to the film. While it's another singer who does the voice of Veronika, it works with Preisner's ambitious and evocative arrangements. Especially since the music would convey the grief and emotions that would come for the movie. Even in its simplicity, the emotional tone of music is very memorable with the use of the flute that is played. While doesn't have the ambitious variety of his work in the Trois Couleurs trilogy, Preisner's work is solid in every note and melody that is played in the film.
The film's cast is amazing with the sense of parallelism that goes throughout the film since it's often done in a different variety of styles. In the roles of the fathers, Wladyslaw Kowalski and Claude Duneton both provide the comfort figures of the two women. Halina Gryglaszewska also provides excellent work as Veronika's supportive and advising aunt while Sandrine Dumas gives a more troubling performance as Veronique's school colleague looking for a way out only to put Veronique in trouble. Alexander Bardini is brilliant in his role as the Polish conductor while Thierry de Carbonniere is also good in his brief role as Veronique's professor. In their respective roles as lovers, Jerzy Gudejko and Phillipe Volter are excellent with Gudejko providing a great performance as Veronika's boyfriend in their flourishing relationship. Yet it's Volter who really shines as Veronique's love interest who provides the answer to her own growth in grief.
The film's central performance of the title role is wonderfully performed with such complexity and grace by Irene Jacob. Jacob brings the freewheeling innocence and optimism of Veronika along with an illuminating beauty that is made for the cinema. She also brings the anguish and insecurities to both of her characters while it's in Veronique where a lot of the film's emotional depth is concerned. The fact that she plays two characters with similar qualities provides a lot more room for the actress where she would win the Best Actress prize at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. It's certainly deserving as she brings in one of her best performances to date that is heightened later by her work in Rouge.
The 2006 Region 1 Criterion 2-disc DVD presents La Double Vie de Veronique with a brand new high definition digital transfer and remastered stereo sound in French and Polish. The film is presented in the original 1:66:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The transfer of the film in comparison to previous home video and DVD releases is phenomenal. The film plays on the first disc which includes a feature-length commentary track from Annette Insdorf, an expert on Kieslowski.
Insdorf’s commentary goes into detail about Kieslowski’s directing style and how he presents things. Even as he was shooting the film partially in Poland when it just got out of the era of Communism where he briefly shows a political protest in order to show that he’s moving away from politics. Insdorf reveals the actress originally was set to play the dual roles of Weronika & Veronique is Andie MacDowell due to her performance in Steven Soderbergh’s landmark film sex, lies, & videotape. Instead, Kieslowski with Irene Jacob whom he discovered from a small role in the Louis Malle film Au Revoir Les Enfants.
Insdorf also goes into tidbits about Kieslowski’s other collaborators, notably co-screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, and composer Zbigniew Preisner. Even as they often work together prior to shooting about setting up visuals and other ideas while another collaborator in editor Jacques Witta helps Kieslowski out in the post-production setting. Insdorf also goes into the presentation of the story and revealed that though Jacob did learn how to speak Polish. Because of her French-Swiss accent, she had to be dubbed though it was believable enough to win her the Best Actress prize at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. Insdorf’s commentary is definitely very intriguing to listen to while delving into a lot of Kieslowski’s previous films as well as the Trois Couleurs trilogy that followed. Even as she talked about the U.S. ending that Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein wanted for American audiences which she didn’t like that much.
One small special feature that appears in the first disc is the U.S. ending of the film which is presented in a grainy copy. The ending is more sentimental than the original film which was more ambiguous. Yet, there was an explanation of why there was an alternate ending was because Weinstein wanted something more accessible for American audiences. While it’s a decent ending, it’s not a strong as the one Kieslowski had intended which is more preferable.
Another special feature content in the first disc are four black and white short films. Three of which were directed by Kieslowski and another by Kieslowski’s teacher Kazimierz Karabasz. Karabasz’ 1958 documentary-short film The Musicians is about a group of men who take their free time to play music as a conductor tries to get the men to play right as a way to have joy in their repressed life. The first of three Kieslowski documentary shorts is with 1970’s Factory is about a group of men struggling to make some changes for the factory they’re running in the hopes of improving it. The second, called Hospital from 1976, is about the chaos that goes at a Polish hospital in the span of more than 24-hours where doctors and nurses are working with old equipment and machines that are barely working. The fourth and final short is 1980’s Railway Station about an oppressive railway station where there’s delays, video cameras looking around, and people waiting for trains while dealing with the people who work there. These shorts are wonderful as it reveals the harsh world of Communist-era Poland from the late 1950s to 1980.
The second disc features two documentaries and three interviews with the people involved with La Double Vie de Veronique. The first documentary is a 50-minute 1991 making-of documentary called Kieslowski-Dialogue where it explores the making of La Double Vie de Veronique as well as Kieslowski discussing the film and his background. The exclusive scenes of Kieslowski making the film with cinematographer Slawomir Idziak and editor Jacques Witta while showing how he presents things on set. Kieslowski revels on the importance of collaborators while talking about the theme of the film. The interview also has him talking about Poland during the Communist era where in 1970, he said he and his other filmmakers were lucky because of the small changes. Despite the censors, they were able to make the kind of films they made as it is a wonderful, insightful documentary on Kieslowski and his views on cinema.
The second documentary called 1966-1988: Kieslowski, Polish Filmmaker is about Kieslowski’s career from his early years to the release of The Decalogue as well as a brief insight to his career afterwards. Directed by Luc Lagier, the film is separated into five parts with the first about Communist Poland after World War II and the emergence of Polish filmmakers in the 1950s that began with A Generation by Andrzej Wajda. Though it was run by the government, the school was a place of freedom. Even as it began a new wave of Polish cinema that included Roman Polanski. Among those influenced by this new wave was Krzysztof Kieslowski who joins the Lodz film school in 1964 at age 23. Two years later, he creates two short films in which the latter called The Office was a documentary short.
By the mid-1970s, Kieslowski wanted to move into making feature films and dramas that began with a TV Polish film in 1975. It was around the same time a new era of Polish cinema was emerging where Kieslowski was a part of with his first theatrical-released feature film called The Scar. This new era explored the harshness of Polish society and how people were living without dignity at the time during a period of political unrest. Yet, The Scar and other films were being censored by the Polish government as Kieslowski’s 1979 film Camera Buff was a film about a man trying to explore the world through the camera as it expresses Kieslowski’s distaste towards documentaries at the time.
By 1980 when Lech Walsea emerged with the Solidarity movement following some political strikes. Polish cinema experienced a brief period of freedom as Kieslowski made Blind Chance about a man going into different political parties only to leave it behind in the end. The film was set for a fall 1981 release in Poland but political unrest by the Communist party and martial law changed everything. Unable to make films for three years, Kieslowski returned with No End, the first of many collaborations with co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz about the mood of Poland during that dark period. Four years later, Kieslowski and Piesiewicz created The Decalogue that included an expanded short called A Short Film About Killing that became Kieslowski’s international breakthrough. The documentary is a great insight into not just Kieslowski’s early career but also Polish cinema up to the late 80s.
A 30-minute interview with cinematographer Slawomir Idziak has the cinematographer discussing his collaboration with Kieslowski. Particularly their friendship that dates back to the early 70s. The two didn’t work together at school because Kieslowski was a year behind him despite being a few years older. Yet, they finally did work for a short film project years later as they frequently worked together. With La Double Vie de Veronique, Idziak recalled the casting for Weronika/Veronique to be troubling as when Irene Jacob was considered. Not everyone liked her as Kieslowski went to his daughter and her friends and they liked her so he ended up choosing Jacob.
Idziak also talks about the filters that he created and the look of the film where he and Kieslowski had arguments about the look. By the time it was to premiere at the 1991 Cannes film festival, Kieslowski learned that the color schemed he had suddenly changed back to what Idziak wanted as Kieslowski accepted the look. Idziak also reflects on the collaboration between director and cinematographer as he talks about directors taking suggestions from their cinematographers which he feels is very important. Something he felt is needed as he recalled the same kind of rapport he had with Ridley Scott when they did Black Hawk Down. Idziak also reveals that he’s amazed by how influential Kieslowski is, even in somewhere like Ecuador where they still play his films in the theaters.
The second interview is with composer Zbigniew Preisner. The composer talks about his collaboration with Kieslowski that began in the early 80s with No End. Preisner talks about when composers had to create music for films or TV in order to be recorded because there was no other way at the time. Preisner had only scored one film prior to meeting Kieslowski in the early 80s at a bar. Preisner came from a different background from Kieslowski and other collaborators as he came from an arts club. After No End, the two worked frequently as Kieslowski often invited him to the planning stages of films.
For La Double Vie de Veronique, lots of fragments of music was made prior to the film as they also used the pseudonym of Van Budenmeyer for a few pieces. Preisner joked about the fact that he got sued by some people over plagiarizing the work of Van Budenmeyer that later got settled because he is Van Budenmeyer. For a some of the vocal music on film, Preisner discovered a vocal student from a music school in Poland to do the voice while he was worried about how Irene Jacob would lip-sync only to be relieved that she was capable. Preisner also states on the importance of collaboration between director and composer and how young students should learn from the masters including him and Kieslowski.
The third and final interview is with Irene Jacob as she discusses on working with Kieslowski on La Double Vie de Veronique. Jacob recalls discovering Kieslowski through A Short Film About Love. While she was working in the U.S., she got a call about a script from Kieslowski where the two met in Paris and eventually got the part. Jacob talks about working with Kieslowski where they helped create the character while leaving room for improvisation. Jacob also talks about how Kieslowski would direct a scene as she holds a picture of her looking in one direction while Kieslowski is talking to her and pointing in that same direction. She says that’s how their relationship is and of all the film she’s done, La Double Vie de Veronique is the one she treasures the most.
Also included in the Criterion DVD is a booklet that includes three essays and selections from a 1993 book called Kieslowski on Kieslowski. The first essay entitled Through the Looking Glass by film critic Jonathan Romney. Romney discusses about the film’s impact at the Cannes Film Festival and its themes. Romney also delves into Irene Jacob’s performance as well as Kieslowski’s direction and themes as well as its influence on other films. The second essay entitled The Forced Choice of Freedom by Slavoj Zizek who discusses about Kieslowski’s themes of chance and its outcome as well as the idea of identity. Even for the character of Veronique who ends up choosing a simpler life following her decision to quit singing.
The third essay called Kieslowski’s Muse by film historian Peter Cowie is about Irene Jacob, the star of La Double Vie de Veronique and Trois Couleurs: Rouge. Cowie talks about Jacob’s performance as well as how her performance was the heart and soul of the film. Even in the little things she did in Veronique as it gave Kieslowski reason to cast her in Rouge. He also recalled her brave speech at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival where she paid tribute to Kieslowski just after his death. The last piece of the booklet are selections from the 1993 Faber & Faber book Kieslowski on Kieslowski. Entitled Pure Emotion: La Double Vie de Veronique, the material is essentially Kieslowski talking about the film as well as the trouble of making it when Andie MacDowell was set to be in the film. He also talked about how much he loved working with Jacob as well as some of the film’s technical pointers and themes. Even in the idea of creating multiple endings for the film to be played of each theater in Paris but proved to be expensive.
The Criterion DVD is truly superb as it one of the best works that the Criterion Collection has created. Even as it’s a film that has paved the way for other kinds of film ranging from Sliding Doors to the notorious 2007 flop I Know Who Killed Me. Yet, it's also a film that would help inspire the hyperlink film genre of the films of Tom Tykwer and Alejandro Gonzalez Innarittu. It's a film that remains of one of Kieslowski's essential films even after his untimely death in 1996.
La Double Vie de Veronique is a remarkable and powerful film from Krzysztof Kieslowski featuring a radiant, tour-de-force performance from Irene Jacob. While it’s no doubt that this is one of Kieslowski’s finest films and definitely ranks with the Trois Couleurs trilogy. It’s also one of the greatest films of the 1990s while it also serves as an excellent introduction to Kieslowski himself. In the end, La Double Vie de Veronique is a haunting and entrancing yet ethereal film from Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Krzysztof Kiewslowski Films: (The Scar) - (Camera Buff) - (Short Working Day) - Blind Chance - (No End) - (A Short Film About Killing) - (A Short Film About Love) - The Decalogue - Trois Couleurs: Bleu - Trois Couleurs: Blanc - Trois Couleurs: Rouge
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