In a featurette on the Criterion Blu-ray edition of 1991’s The Double Life Of Veronique, co-writer/director Krzysztof Kieslowski sighs that no one has really comprehended his films the way his viewers used to in the days of Soviet censorship in his native Poland, when viewers and creators alike were straining to pick up coded meanings that skirted around the edge of official approval: “They understood our intentions and identified with them,” he says. “We were all against the system—the audience and the filmmakers. That’s why we understood each other so well. Now we have no censorship. So the whole game—that ability to understand the underlying intention has ceased to exist.” By contrast, he implies, people just don’t get Veronique—at least not on the level he intended.
That isn’t necessarily surprising, because The Double Life Of Veronique is an elusive, slippery film, more bound up in musical impressions, lyrical compositions, and strong emotional alliterations than explained through strict narrative progression. Irène Jacob stars as two different women from two different countries: The Polish singer Weronika abandons a promising relationship in favor of a promising musical career, while the French music teacher Veronique falls for a puppeteer after watching him perform, and begins a strange game of artistic cat-and-mouse with him, as he pursues her in his own ways, for his own reasons. The two women never meet, but their lives are entangled in ways only the viewers can understand. Kieslowski tells their story with the same kind of powerful, instinct-driven presentation he brought to his Three Colors trilogy, Blue, White, and Red, which use those colors to establish themes as well as tell specific stories.
We aren’t living under Polish censorship, so there may be symbols in the film we can’t fully follow. But we’re still planning to take up Kieslowski’s challenge by trying to comprehend the film via our next Movie Of The Week discussion, and by praising its beauty and craft even where we aren’t entirely sure we comprehend it.
I’ll kick us off next Tuesday with a Keynote looking at how Kieslowski disorients viewers and lures them away from logic-driven analysis by constantly distorting the visuals throughout the film, from the upside-down opening shot to an obsession with mirrors and glass. Our Wednesday Forum admits to some of the things we still find mysterious about the film, and we try to answer each other’s questions, while also getting into the logic/emotion and reality/fantasy divides. And on Thursday, Noel Murray wraps up with an essay looking at Kieslowski’s pointed move away from documentaries and into feature filmmaking. Please join us.
There’s no good Veronique trailer online, but here are a couple of key scenes, as Weronika briefly spies Veronique during a Krakow tour cut short by a political protest, and as Veronique first catches a glimpse of her puppeteer behind the screen of a performance at her elementary school:
Upcoming Movies Of The Week
August 11: Phantom Of The Paradise
August 18: MacGruber
August 25: Out Of Sight
September 1: Hedwig And The Angry Inch