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  Double Life of Veronique, The Life could be a dream
Year: 1991
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Stars: Irène Jacob, Halina Gryglaszewska, Kalina Jedrusik, Aleksander Bardini, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Jerzy Gudejko, Janusz Sterninski, Philippe Volter, Sandrine Dumas, Louis Ducreux
Genre: Drama, Weirdo, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  9 (from 2 votes)
Review: Weronika (Irène Jacob) is a radiant young woman living in Poland. Although suffering from a congenital heart defect she embraces life to its fullest, whether it means romance or pursuing her dream of becoming a concert singer. One day, in the midst of a student riot in Warsaw, Weronika is startled by the sight of her identical double: Veronique (Irène Jacob), a young French woman visiting the city. Then whilst singing onstage Weronika suffers a fatal heart attack. Back in Paris, Veronique is overcome by a mysterious melancholy which compels her to give up her own singing career. While working as a music teacher for little children, Veronique watches a puppet play wherein a young woman dies but is reborn as a butterfly. She receives mysterious phone calls and items in the post that seem fragments of Weronika’s former life. Feeling she has fallen in love without knowing why, Veronique pieces these clues together and meets up at a station cafe with puppeteer and children’s writer, Alexandre (Philippe Volter). He tells Veronique a story he has written about two identical women born at the same time, living miles apart. One woman dies, while the other lives on, inexplicably sensing her loss...

Often referred to as a work of the fantastique, although nothing overtly fantastical occurs in The Double Life of Veronique, the film nevertheless weaves a unique enchantment as the angelically lovely Irène Jacob - who deservedly won the best actress award at Cannes - almost floats through ephemeral realms drenched in green and gold by master cinematographer Slawomir Idziak - who went on to shoot Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) - drawn by the dreamily disembodied camera of Polish genius Krzysztof Kieslowski. Shifting away from the social realism of his early films towards broader philosophical themes, Kieslowski delivers an experience tantamount to eavesdropping on someone else’s dreams. What would be perceived a weakness in most movies is instead among this film’s strongest assets. It provokes viewers to ask questions without leaving them feeling unsatisfied that the answers remain as elusive as the meaning of life itself.

So what could it all mean? For some the film is a purely political allegory. After all, it arrived at a time when communist regimes were being overthrown all across Eastern Europe. Polish Weronika yearns for a freedom French Veronique more or less takes for granted. And yet far from feeling constrained, Weronika is more exuberant and open-hearted than her hesitant Gallic twin. She almost feels too much and seems eventually overwhelmed by a rush of giddy, sensoral pleasures. Whereas Weronika is a precious rarity, Veronique has more in common with many young people, being uncertain about what she wants from life. Is Weronika therefore a projection of Veronique’s psyche, a dream from which she has just awoken, or perhaps vice versa? Possibly Veronique offers a new, more resilient vessel for Weronika’s spirit, a second chance at life. Kieslowski’s looking glass imagery evokes Lewis Carroll and the idea of seeing the world through a distorted lens, one which allows greater clarity into hitherto unfathomable reaches of the human soul.

There are some interesting parallels between this film and Amelie (2001), another story about a idealistic young woman adrift in an enchanted Paris. Most notably with Alexandre’s eccentric courtship of Veronique through anonymous phonecalls and mailed mementos that seemingly piece together that which she feels was missing. Kieslowski’s stylistic approach is far subtler but no less magical, from the eerily beautiful puppet play watched by scores of wide-eyed children to the light that darts about Veronique’s bedroom like some playful fairy or UFO. Music plays an integral part of the film, with a simply gorgeous score by composer Zbigniew Priesner haunting the viewer in a manner similar to how our enigmatic heroine(s) become haunted by near-incommunicable feelings. It is a story conveyed through impressions, sensations and the shifting subtleties of Irène Jacob’s beautifully expressive face.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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