The Double Life of Véronique is a very special movie. From the first scenes, beautifully orchestrated and gorgeously colored, that’s more than clear. Something about the elegiac movement of the film is sad but uplifting, emotional and intelligent, unique yet accessible. Shooting in luscious shades of greens and yellows, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s makes Double Life shimmer as beautifully as the gold that often pours out of the frame. It’s a feel that many directors certainly desire, but only the masters can achieve.
Kieślowski owes a large part of his success to cinematographer Sławomir Idziak, who captures characters in such exotic life that he suggests another dimension to the world that they—and by extension, we—live in. So beautiful is The Double Life of Véronique that it would be a grand achievement if it were removed of story and sound. That Kieślowski’s frequent collaborator Zbigniew Preisner reaches new heights with his haunting and operatic score only elevates the films to new levels of ethereality. So significant is the score within the diegesis that even during the film’s silent passages it seems to inform the film’s tone. The technical merits of this film alone feel destined for scrutiny and academia. That they also grant the film a resonance for days after viewing prove that, for the best artists, form and style are inseparable from substance.
On its surface, Double Life tells the story of Weronika, a Polish soprano blessed with a soaring, powerful voice, and the French music teacher Véronique, who feels an unexplainable connection to the Polish woman whom she has never met. Weronika sings the same piece that Véronique teaches, hence the omnipresence of the musical theme, hence the film’s mystical tone and poetic sense of emotion. Both women are portrayed by Irene Jacob, who is quiet whenever she can be but devastating whenever she need be. The line Jacob walks between these is thin, but she walks it perfectly and blends in with the film’s mystique.
All through Double Life, impressions supersede explication. Neither the colors nor the songs necessarily “mean” or “represent” any particular emotion or idea; instead, they blend together to give a feeling that is subtle in description but unmistakable in magnitude. Double Life is about identity and interconnection, about love and the intuition that comes with it, but so strong are its impressions that it rarely needs to tell you this explicitly. Kieślowski, creates a world which exists far beyond our frame of it. Yet his deeply humanistic story locks us into a character—or rather, an identity—that is both shaped by and trapped in the fullness of that world. As such, Double Life reaches poetic heights about what we mean to each other and how we can be aware of it. For Véronique, it’s not something we cannot explain and it is something that can barely be understood, but it is also something unmistakable and deeply important.
There is very little story to follow. Weronika sings, makes love, and sings again. Véronique makes love, teaches, and looks for an answer to her loneliness that, we understand, is related to Weronika. It unfolds rather unevenly, as Weronika gets far less screen time and Véronique’s quest seems to circle too widely its end goal and her actions are far enough out of the realm of probability to stilt the film’s impact, but its discoveries are unpretentious and effective even when achieved unbelievably.
I wish I could describe Double Life better than I can. I have seen it only once, but it is certainly among the most well-made and visually powerful films I have seen. All I can do is urge you to watch it. It is one of the absolute best films of the 1990s.