Véronique: All my life I’ve felt like I was here and somewhere else at the same time.
La double vie de Véronique, (1991), is a jewel of a film; written and directed by Krzysztof Kieslowśki, with Krzysztof Piesiewicz as the co-author, it depicts the intersecting lives of two women, Weronika (which takes place in Kraków, Poland) and Véronique (living in a central town in France, Clermont-Ferrand). As the title suggests, their lives are in an intimate, yet elusive way, connected. They seem to sense each other’s presence, and the story of Véronique begins where Weronika’s ends, with her untimely death; resounding in Véronique’s life as a sudden, inexplicable feeling of grief.
Kieslowśki began his career directing documentaries in the 1970s, and became known internationally for The Decalogue, (1989) based on the Ten Commandments. An opportunity arose for him to make a film abroad, and the production of La double vie de Véronique began. It was a co-production between France and Poland, followed by the Three Colors trilogy: Bleu, Blanc and Rouge (also starring Irène Jacob). Kieślowski has stated in an interview that filmmaking (in the line of social realism) in the communist regime was a constant battle with the censors, forcing social criticism to come across indirectly—allowing a mutual understanding to form between the filmmaker and the audience, while simultaneously evading censorship. Eventually he shifted away from documentary films to fiction, in order to gain more artistic freedom, and to delve deeper into the psyche of people.
Another interesting point is Kieślowski’s view on responsibility, not only the responsibility to oneself, but also to others in a broader sense of the word; responsibility to people around us who we don’t even know, whom we encounter in the humdrum of our daily lives, which brings out the importance of small encounters. The characters of Weronika and Véronique reflect this heightened awareness of their surroundings, and yet live in a world of their own. For instance, while watching a marionette performance with her class, Véronique is the only one who notices the puppeteer:
Véronique is instantly intrigued by the puppeteer, Alexandre. What sets in motion may best be called destiny, as Kieślowski himself names as one of the themes of this film, but shows how it’s also a series of possibilities which are pursued, driven by instinct. Véronique could well have ignored a phone call, and her future would have played out differently.
La double vie de Véronique is stunning visually, in its beautifully atmospheric cinematography, and the transition of Irène Jacob from Weronika to Véronique is natural; there is a balance between the subtle differences and similarities shared by the two characters. Considering such themes as destiny or fate, the film manages spectacularly to avoid falling flat; the nature of how the lives of Véronique and Weronika are linked is left to the interpretation of the viewer, and the emotions and thoughts of the main characters are not spelled out. Also, the music composed by Zbigniev Preisner, (collaborating frequently with Kieślowski since the 1980s) sets a distinct, otherworldly melody to the film, and plays a part in the storytelling as well.