Sight and Sound Top 250 #248 – The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

As we finally get back to our trip through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, we come to #248, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Double Life of Veronique. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

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*** SPOILER WARNING*** I’m going to go ahead and throw a great big spoiler warning up here at the head of the review, because there are certain aspects of this film which are definitely meant to be surprises for the first time viewer, but without revealing them it would be impossible to properly write about it. So, if you want an untainted viewing experience, it might be best to go watch the movie first, then come back to read this. You have been warned. ***SPOILER WARNING***

Who are we in the world when we are not ourselves? In many ways this is the essential (and existential) question that is at the heart of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s 1991 film The Double Life of Veronique.

The film opens with two short scenes of young girls being taught about nature by their mothers. One, the Polish Weronika, is shown the stars in the night sky, while the other, the French Veronique, is shown the veins on the back of a leaf. Both are taught that there is more to life than that which appears in front of them :Just as there are more stars in the sky, some of them not easily seen as individual by the naked eye, there will also soon be trees full of leaves which will hide their uniqueness.

After the credits we pick up with the life of a now grown Weronika (played by the always-stunning Irene Jacob) who is singing at an outdoor concert with a choir. A sudden downpour ends the concert – though Weronika embraces the rain and holds on through the end of the last note -and the choir disperses. Weronika runs off and meets up with her boyfriend  Antek. The next day she leaves for Krakow to see her sick aunt, though not before telling her father that recently she has had a strange feeling that she is “not alone in the world”.

While in Krakow, Weronika visits a friend at a rehearsal for a male choir and finds herself unable to keep from adding a soprano accompaniment to the voices. She is noticed by the director who asks her to audition for a part in an upcoming concert. Unsurprisingly, Weronika wins the part, but on the night of her debut, mid-solo, she collapses onstage and dies, and we are then given a perspective shot of her spirit as it flies above the audience and out of the auditorium.

Cut to an also now-grown-up Veronique (also Jacob) who is living in Paris, and at the time we meet her is making love to her boyfriend.Suddenly she finds herself filled with an inexplicable sadness which she likens to grieving, though she is unable to account for the reason behind the emotion.

Veronique, we come to find, is a music teacher, and after an interlude in which she take her students to see a marionette performance, we see her teaching them a passage from the same piece of music that Weronika was singing when she died.

The lives of Veronique and the puppeteer who performed the marionette show then begin to intertwine in ways that are at first mysterious then later are at least somewhat explained.

I say somewhat explained because Kieślowski is not so much about explaining the mysteries of life or of death – of solving them. Instead, he is much more interested in embracing the questions and following where ever they might lead. He is also curious about the ways in which his characters (and by that I mean not just the main characters, but also those on the periphery) are, or at least may be, connected. This is a theme he will return to again an again, finally making perhaps his most compelling statement on the subject in the conclusion to his epic Three Colors trilogy, Red.

The Double Life of Veronique is a film that is also very much a song about life and longing, and about the connections between us all. Music obviously plays a huge role in the film, not only in Weronika’s singing and Veronique’s music teaching, but in setting the tone and mood of the entire movie an the lives of his protagonists. This is yet another conceit that Kieślowski would return to often in his films, most notably in Three Colors: Blue..

The passion that Jacob brings to her performance – in both roles – cannot be overstated. Kieślowski’s camera adores her and it is easy to see why. Whether singing, making love, or simply reading a book, Jacob is fully invested in every moment of each character. As a matter of fact, she won the Best Actress Award when the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991.

So does The Double Life of Veronique earn its spot on the list? Well, as I suspect you can tell from my reactions above my personal answer is an unqualifie “yes”. As a matter of fact, I’d probably place it even higher. This is one to seek out, folks, and definitely one time you won’t mind seeing double.

Here’s your trailer:

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One thought on “Sight and Sound Top 250 #248 – The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

  1. My favourite Kieslowski movie; love your thoughts on the film, especially this one which you highlight as the main theses of the film: “Who are we in the world when we are not ourselves?”Truly enigmatic, almost as the film is. Great job!

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