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The Double Life Of Véronique


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Jonathan Romney's liner notes for Krzysztof Kieslowski's 1991 breakthrough The Double Life Of Véronique praises the film for its "delicate combination of simplicity and unfathomable complexity," which is about the best possible articulation of a filmmaker whose later work defies articulation. Stories about coincidence and chance run through Kieslowski's career, but Véronique, even more so than the famed Three Colors trilogy (Blue, White, and Red) that followed, crystallizes these themes in poetic abstraction. The film wilts under the harsh light of rationality; after all, how could anyone make sense of a heroine whose doppelgänger is both distinctly separate and inextricably connected to her? And yet these parallel lives rhyme so tunefully through the reflective cinematography and sweeping score that any confusion or disbelief tends to melt away.

Perhaps above all things, Véronique is about beauty—of images, of music, of love, of the connections that bind us—and to that end, Kieslowski cast ravishing discovery Irène Jacob in the lead role. Jacob stars as Veronika, a Polish choir soprano, and Véronique, a French choir teacher of identical appearance. The opening minutes focus on the Polish singer, but when she dies of a heart condition during a performance, the action switches to the French Jacob, who feels this loss in a profound way that can't be explained. Before her doppelgänger died, the two did share a chance encounter in a Krakow square, but the film suggests that they share the same soul. In fact, there are strange continuities between them, like a mistake the French Jacob sidesteps because her other half had made it earlier.

Commenting on his own role in these contrivances, Kieslowski connects the strands further by having Jacob fall in love with a puppeteer (and director's surrogate) who lures her through a series of mailed clues. In miniature, this subplot serves as a reminder of how seductive and mysterious Kieslowski's work can be, and how it speaks to an audience without speaking directly. Véronique is one of the few films that could be called "inexplicable" with no insult intended.

Key features: Three early Kieslowski documentary shorts and an inspirational short by his film-school teacher join an Annette Insdorf commentary and the American ending on disc one; the second disc includes an hourlong documentary on Véronique, another doc about Kieslowski's career, and new interviews with his cinematographer and composer.