Margin: Exploring Modern Magical 

Realism

F I L M   R E V I E W
Doubled Lives and Inversions
t h e   t w o - w a y   m i r r o r   t h a t   i s   ' v é r o n i q u e '

BY S.L. DEEFHOLTS

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VÉRONIQUE (LA DOUBLE VIE DE VÉRONIQUE)
© 1991
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
98 minutes

How to describe Kieslowski’s cinematic oeuvre?

Moody, tangential, enigmatic. Thematically diverse and complex. His films aren’t about simple dilemmas and Aesop’s morals. They are complex meditations on themes couched in an often-bleak but evocative romanticism.

The Double Life of Véronique is a perfect example. Steeped in shades of yellow, gold and amber, The Double Life is ostensibly about two women who have never met but who are nonetheless bound together by some mysterious connection. They are mirror images of each other, though one lives in Poland and the other in France. Polish Weronika was born moments before Véronique, and their lives have run a close parallel. Each time Weronika makes a mistake, somehow Véronique knows not to make the same error. Nor is any explanation proffered for why these two women are connected -- part of the lyrical magic of the film comes in its simple presentation of events, with only the smallest concessions to anything resembling explication of what might be going on.

In many ways, The Double Life is two separate stories, linked by a character and by certain shared thematic concepts and leitmotifs (in a literal as well as a figurative sense, for the musical score is also a series of inversions and themes that recur in various iterations). Yet, this also ties into the notion of doubling that is such an integral part of the film. Even the title can be read as a pun in French, where the word for “w” is “double-v” and the word for “Life” is “vie.” And so, the film’s name has an alternate reading: “The double-v of Véronique”--on the one hand, evoking the Polish Weronika’s name and on the other telling us of the two vees represented by the two Veronicas.

We begin with Weronika, who is fated to make the mistakes that Véronique knows to avoid -- and we are presented with the vision of a young woman who lives intensely and refuses to hold back. She is impulsive and ready to revel in the beauty and immediacy of life and sensation. She gives her all to the moment and in return, it leads her to magnificence, before stealing her away into silence.

Véronique, by contrast, is restrained. She has lived the life of the cautious child who learns from her counterpart’s mistakes, and so we have the sense that she is mired in a kind of longing that she has never permitted to escape. Instead, it is her mysterious knowledge of what can hurt her which has guided her actions, holding her back from those moments of intense immediacy that gave Weronika such profound joy.

When she loses Weronika -- without ever knowing she had her -- she is weighted by a sadness she cannot explain and she mourns without understanding. Yet, life for her goes on and once again, she is able to learn from Weronika’s mistakes, thereby sidestepping the fate of her Polish double.

This is the point at which the film’s focus shifts and the second narrative thread takes over, though there are moments of poignant insight that hearken back to the first portion of the film. At one point Véronique empties her purse onto a bed and finds a strip of pictures she took during a trip to Poland, then shoved into her purse and never bothered to look at after they were developed. Her lover, seeing it, assumes the woman in the photos is Véronique -- but when she herself examines the pictures, she realizes it wasn’t her. The hint of insight is especially poignant because we were with Weronika earlier, when she saw Véronique board the bus and stood in the middle of the square in Warsaw, trying to catch another glimpse of her double while the bus drove away.

But, for the most part, the second portion of the film pursues a different narrative line. Yet again, Kieslowski evades the obvious romanticism he could easily have pursued in presenting his story, which is that of a fairytale come to life. Véronique is intrigued by a puppeteer who enacts exquisite narratives with his creations. Soon she begins to receive mysterious parcels that she can only unravel by learning more about the puppeteer and his work, for he is also a writer of children’s books. One of these contains the story that explains the parcels and gives her the necessary guidance for her quest. She is already intrigued by him, and well on her way to being infatuated. And so, she unravels the clues and finds him, ready to fall in love with her fairytale lover.

Only, it’s not quite so simple, for the puppeteer, true to his profession of guiding the actions of his characters, has simply been testing her as research for a book. He wants to see whether an attractive woman would be resourceful enough -- and sufficiently intrigued by the notion of following a mysterious trail of clues -- to come to him without ever having met him. Though he soon realizes his interest isn’t quite as academic as he had believed, by adding those and other twists, Kieslowski is able to explore the notion of manipulation -- in narrative as in life, without making judgments or even explicitly throwing it into the face of the audience. Instead, the puppeteer, as a metaphor for the director himself, is given mysterious powers (it is he who creates two identical puppets, and tells Véronique about the two Veronicas, born in different countries, but magically linked in some inexplicable way). As such, the puppeteer presents a compelling figure, while still remaining profoundly and prosaically human.

In all, The Double Life of Véronique is a fascinating meditation on a number of themes. Kieslowski shines in his ability to couch such ambivalences and ambiguities in the elongated shadows created by the gossamer veil of golden romanticism he somehow manages to draw over the prosaic world of the everyday.

For more information about this movie, please visit The Internet Movie Database

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