Irene Jacob plays Weronika, a Polish girl whose career as a pianist was crushed, along with her finger, when it was slammed in a car door. Having turned to singing, she journeys to Krakow to live with her Aunt. Sitting in on her friend’s rehearsal, she impresses the director and earns an leading role in the choir. On a random day in the street of Krakow a tour bus from France travels through the city square. Looking at the bus, Weronika spots Veronique (also played by Jacob) hop on and photograph the square. Veronique is the exact double for Weronika (her doppelganger), which is something the Polish woman instantly recognizes. They each go their separate ways following this encounter, but share a connection, even if one of the pair has not discovered it yet.
Why the film works so well, and refrains from being confusing, is the fact that Kieslowski chooses to focus entirely on Weronika first, rather than cutting back and forth between the women. That is, until she mysteriously collapses at a recital, and the films shifts the thread to Paris, where Veronique is suddenly overwhelmed by an inexplicable feeling of grief and sadness. Veronique, like Weronika, is musically talented, working as a teacher, and shares similar anxieties about her identity. One day, while she sits with her students during a marionette show, she locks eyes with the puppeteer, Alexandre (Philippe Volter) and their by-chance interaction seems to be more than coincidence.
Mysterious packages, such as a piece of string and a cassette tape, start showing up in her mailbox, which have a double connection. For the audience, they link to Weronika, while within her personal story; the items link to a secret admirer, likely the puppeteer. There is a particularly wonderful sequence where Veronique establishes that the sounds playing on the tape are of a unique train station. She has been challenged to decipher the clues and meet the sender at a cafe there. As she is courted by Alexandre, the film works as a meditation on realms of personality which every human experiences entirely alone; those of existentialism, intuition and imagination.
This film calls for us to wonder, and celebrate perhaps, the idea that we each possess a doppelganger. Have you ever wondered how you would feel if you were walking down the street and ran into someone that looked exactly like yourself? It would be a little scary wouldn’t it? But it would be intriguing. In Veronique, Kieslowski doesn’t try and attempt to explain whether this phenomenon occurs, but he chooses to explore and romanticize the possibility of the idea. This is a beautiful theme that Veronique shares with Trois Couleurs: Rouge; the unexpected uniting of people who unknowingly share a destiny.
The wonderful partnership between Kieslowski and Irene Jacob, who reunite for Rouge in ‘94, is a truly magical one. Jacob’s luminous beauty and emotional front-and-centre performance was awarded the Best Actress Award at the ’91 Cannes Film Festival. Her compelling performance revels in subtlety. In addition to the different hairstyle and spoken language, she manages to make both women evidently distinct from one another, despite them both sharing overlaps in emotiveness, sensitivity, existential awareness and spirit. They even carry themselves in different ways; Veronique a little more melancholy about her existence, but a bit more intuitive and intrigued about her feelings. Weronika is driven in her professional pursuits and her strained relationships with a man she left at home, and her father, cause her anxiety.
Technically, it is impeccable also. Kieslowski richly layers his surreal atmosphere with clever use of mirroring and doubling, to distort our perceptions. Using the opening shot of an off-kilter cityscape, the out-of-focus reflection of the city square in the windows of the tour bus and the distorted image that looking through a clear ball creates, he signifies the doubling of Weronika and Veronique’s world. In each of Kieslowski’s films, the vibrant use of colour (for example the dominance of blue, white and red in the Trois Couleurs Trilogy) is of stylistic importance. Here, the image is given a hyper stylized, golden hue, and the calculated movement of the camera, which captures several stunning tracking shots of the women walking, is very impressive. In addition, the use of Zbigniew Preisner’s enchanting score is not only beautiful to listen to, but it pops up again whenever Veronique learns a little more about Weronika and the puppeteer.
The Double Life of Veronique is the kind of unique film that you find so rarely these days. It is a romance that is genuinely acceptable and believable. What connects people together? There is a very European romanticism at the heart of this story. There needs to be mystery and a courtship that intrigues the other person. There may even have to be a spiritual link to a stranger, who channels feelings, emotions and intuitions to you. While these phenomenon may never happen, this beautiful film examines the possibilities, and if it doesn't inspire you to look a little closer at your existence, I don't know what will.