Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Shadows and Reflections in 'The Double Life of Veronique'
Krzysztof Kieslowski made ‘The Double Life of Veronique’, his first French language film, just after the Dekalog series and just before the Three Colours Trilogy. It was all made in quick succession, a kind of strong burst of creativity, and as the star of ‘Veronique’ says in an interview on youtube.com, he was exhausted and retired immediately after it. He did, in fact, die in his early 50’s not long after this.
At the start of ‘Veronique’, we see a little girl with her mother looking at the night sky for a star on Christmas Eve. Then, somewhere else, the film cuts to another little girl of about the same age with her mother, this time looking at the intricacies of a simple leaf. We get to understand later that this is our first glimpse of the two female protagonists: Weronika, in Poland, and Veronique, in Paris. They look identical and have intuitive feelings for each other, and yet they never directly meet. Both actresses are played by the stunningly beautiful Irene Jacob (also of ‘Three Colours Red’).
The first part of the film is about Weronika, in Poland, the vocalist with the beautiful orchestral voice. She makes passionate love with her boyfriend in an alleyway in heavy rain, and he looks at her, and holds her, like she is a rare pearl and he cannot believe his fortune. When she sees her father she says “I have a strange feeling. I feel that I am not alone.”
There are hints there Weronika has a heart complaint, which sets us up for her fatal heart attack whilst performing with an orchestra. The camera is from her point of view and it darts and swoops sickeningly before, like Weronika, it crashes to the hard wooden floor.
Prior to her death, Weronika is walking near some kind of demonstration through the main square of Krakow when she sees her doppelganger getting on a bus. Weronika is transfixed by what she sees. Her double proves to be a French tourist about to go back to Paris, a French music teacher, and her name is Veronique and the rest of the film is about her.
Her very first shot shows her making love, but feeling melancholy like she is ‘grieving’ for somebody. She tells her father she is in love but doesn’t understand why because she barely knows the puppet man she admires from afar. She also says she feels like she has lost somebody close. With the puppet man looking at old photographs, she finds a photo she took of Weronika when she was a tourist in Krakow. It is a beautifully realised epiphanous moment and it causes her to grieve and cry freely. It is though a part of her has died.
At the end of the film the man who makes puppets shows Veronique his latest two creations. He is also writing a book. It is about two girls of identical looks who are born in different parts of Europe at the same time. There is a strong intuitive connection between the women. The film ends here with the realisation that Veronique will probably never be fully complete
This film is shot beautifully in soft light of rose sometimes, gold other times, and fixes on images that may or may not mean anything. It is very similar to Dekalogue in this way. At around 7:30 minutes in Weronika tells her father she feels that she’s not alone. She is outside his study door in a yellowish green light that is soft and intimate. There is a mirror on a door facing inwards- hence we have a double image of Weronika.
On a train at 9:00 Weronika is on her way to Krakow. She holds a small translucent ball, like a bouncy ball, that appears to be some sort of talisman for her. She gazes through the ball as she arrives at the station. Our view is her view through the ball. Everything is upside down and dreamlike. This has a lovely dreamy effect.
At 22:30 some of the shots of Weronika are through her apartment window, in her lingerie. Again we have double images, this time in the reflected glass. The interior is pale yellow and very warm.
At 52:20, Veronique, in Paris, peers in at the window of a bookshop. A strong reflection is thrown back at her as her nose lightly touches the glass. Seconds later, in bright light, there is the close up of a rose coloured tea bag, spinning slowly around and around a tea filled glass. Again it is a warm, soft image that fits in beautifully with the look and feel of the film.
At 1:10:05 Veronique is hiding behind a large window of a door in a building off a Parisian street. The door has rose coloured stained glass and it throws of a lovely warm hue. It is the puppet man she is looking at, and the colours validate our favourable feelings for him. The stained glass also throws red colours into Veronique’s brown hair.
The final moments of the film, when Veronique is looking at the puppets made like her and her doppelganger, are fresh and attractive. The lighting is bright and she is wearing dark green pyjamas, and the walls of the room are also painted a lovely fresh green. The stained glass on the bedroom door is a similar green.
I am getting to know Kieslowski well. I can see how he must have taken a lot of care over his shots, and lighting in particular. There are many evocative images in his films that are mysterious and associated with a sense of wonder. His films are heavy with imagery and meaning, and the look of them is important. Much more important than mere storytelling.