Tyler and Ashley Discuss: The Double Life of Veronique

Last night I watched Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique (1991) for the fourth time, and decided that instead of reviewing it like normal, as I had planned to, I would instead bring on Ashley, my girlfriend who loves the film as much as I do. In fact, she loves it more; it’s her favourite movie of all time, and so I thought her thoughts on it deserve to be added.

So what we did was we recorded a conversation about it between us, and the following is a transcript of that discussion. Turns out we both love it a lot so there’s not really any conflicting opinions, but I still think it’s a refreshing break from a review.

NB: This is much less a review than it is simply us talking about the film. If you haven’t seen it, most of this will make no sense to you.

Tyler: So.

Ashley: Uh-huh.

T: The Double Life of Veronique.

A: Yes.

T: Why is it your favourite movie of all time?

A: It’s a lot of things, really. But the biggest one is just its originality on how it handles its subject.

T: Meaning?

A: Well, it’s about two women who live exactly the same lives, right? Any Hollywood phony could do that, but with Kieslowski it’s different.

T: How ‘different’?

A: Well, I love how he doesn’t intertwine the stories, so that they come together at some clichéd Hollywood ending; he tells the story of Weronika first, then when that finishes, he jumps to Veronique. The storylines are both respectively chronological, rather than cutting between and getting annoying.

T: Intertwining movies annoy you?

A: No, they don’t, but if this movie intertwined the stories of the two women it would be annoying. It’d just be too difficult to keep up.

T: Okay. So what about the direction? How do you think Kieslowski handles things?

A: Overall, I’d say quite well, though I’m not an expert at camera angles or anything.

T: Uh-huh. What, particularly, about it did you think was well done, in terms of direction?

A: The camera moves very fluidly. I especially love how it rotates as Weronika sees Veronique in the bus early on. It seems to turn around and around til you’re dizzy, but it works. It’s definitely the best scene.

T: Okay. What about the writing? What do you think of the screenplay?

A: Well, Kieslowski always has great stories. When you think of his movies, you think of the stories, right?

T: I know I certainly do, among other things.

A: Right! And the way he handles this woman’s paranoia about being in two places at once… he writes it so well.

T: Alright. What about the acting? What did you think of Irene Jacob?

A: She was superb. That scene near the end when she sees Weronika in the photo and starts crying while making love is… such a contrast. It’s almost as if she’s being raped.

T: Wow. I never thought of it like that.

A: Well, think about it. The sex is just so rough in that scene; there’s no love in it, whereas during all Veronique’s other encounters with men, including the flasher, there seems to be at least some… sexuality… just, vibrant sexuality, almost fun, jovial… y’know?

T: Mm-hmm.

A: And all those scenes are fun for her, but that final sex scene, she’s crying so rapidly and vividly and we know she’s being humped, but there’s no sexual stimulation there. To a casual viewer it would look like rape.

T: Oka—

A: But it’s not though, because she wants to make love to him, she has been wanting it for a while and yet when it comes, pardon the pun, it’s under such… unfortunate circumstances.

T: What about the music? What about the score?

A: Well, obviously the opera is fantastic. She has such a wonderful voice, Irene Jacob. And when we see Weronika singing at the recital, it’s so clear and loud and beautiful, that when Veronique goes to quit her singing lessons, even though she’s unknowingly saving her own life, it just hurts so much to see her stop.

T: Alright. Is there anything else you particularly liked about it?

A: Oh, there is a hell of a lot more. For starters, the way the screen is painted in Paris… in movies like Amelie, for example, we see a vibrant Paris that’s dancing with life. In Kieslowski’s movies, it seems to be a lot more desolate. The same goes for the earlier Polish scenes.

T: I agree. I think it’s like he’s acknowledging that the cities are fine places, but he’s not adding anything more to support that. Even in his more comedic stories like Three Colours: White or the third Dekalog episode, for example, the cities are… not darker, but more lonesome. There’s not a huge backdraft of supporting characters, there are just the mains and one or two supports.

A: Right, like Veronique’s father for example. I think he’s a very Kieslowski character.

T: How so?

A: He’s an old man, a wise man, an important man, and there seems to be a lot of those in Kieslowski’s films. Not main characters, but not supporting ones either because they always play an important role.

T: I know what you mean. Like the judge in Three Colours: Red.

A: Yeah, that too, but he was more of a main character. I’m thinking more like that guy in White, who came up to the main guy at the train station and became his friend for like half the movie and helped him get back home.

T: Oh, yeah, that’s right. And, you know what I think?

A: What?

T: I think that there’s always a tiny character. A small person who might not say anything, but you notice them. Like the homeless guy in the Dekalog episodes, or the old woman trying to put something in a rubbish bin in the Three Colours trilogy.

A: Yeah? You reckon they represent something?

T: Yes I do, but I’ve never been quite sure what that was, only that I knew they were there for a reason. Take the old lady, or example; she originally appeared in this movie, The Double Life of Veronique. She was heaving along some bags and Weronika offered to go down and help her but she didn’t reply.

A: You think that was the same woman?

T: Perhaps, but you know what I think was really strange, and probably a happy accident?

A: What?

T: She’s heaving some bags in Veronique, and we might be able to guess she’s carrying something important, right?

A: Right…

T: Well, in the Three Colours trilogy, when we see her, no one goes to help her dispose of her things until in the third movie, Red, and the person who helps her in the end is none other than Irene Jacob’s character Valentine.

A: Okay?

T: It’s almost as if, after the three year gap between Veronique and Red, that Weronika has finally found the old woman and helped her. It’s like a completely accidental bridge between the two movies.

A: I get what you mean, but Tyler?

T: Yeah?

A: You think too much. I reckon that was just a coincidence.

T: Well, I know it was, but I just felt I should share it. I thought you’d be more excited.

A: I’d be excited if your conclusion was actually plausible.

T: I know, okay. It was just a thought!

A: [laughs]

T: What?

A: Nothing.

T: Okay, let’s carry on. What would you rate the movie out of ten, as if we don’t already know?

A: Ten. And you?

T: Ten as well. That wasn’t surprising, we both love it.

A: I thought you would love it more, being such a Kieslowski freak.

T: I do love it a lot, and it’s definitely gonna move up on my Top 100, but I still maintain it’s nowhere near as good as Red.

A: Jesus, don’t start rambling about that again.

T: [laughs] So it’s both ten, then.

A: What?

T: For Veronique.

A: Oh. Yes. Hell yeah.

T: Great.

Well, that’s our little discussion. What did you think? Was it five minutes of your life you desperately want back, or was there some validity in what we said? Let me know in the comments below!

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Posted on August 24, 2011, in Movie Reviews, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. HAHA That was brilliant, Hi Ashley and nice to meet you!!

    You guys should have done that as a pod cast, then Tyler could REALLY ramble on!!

    Thanks for sharing guys!

    • We debated doing a podcast but as you said, I would ramble, and this was just a small conversation. It would only take up five minutes on audio and it wouldn’t be worth it. No one wants to listen to that, and I didn’t want to ramble on, and nor did she.

  2. My goodness, hilarious, loved every moment! A few points I would like to add if I may:

    The two women do not live exactly the same lives at all! They might have looked identical but that was not important. It was only to initially help the audience realize that the girls might have something in common; emotions, inner feelings or what have you.

    In actual fact, Kieslowski instructed Irene Jacob NOT to play the same role in the film but to act in two distinctly different roles and this proved very hard for her. Weronika was to be a happy-go-lucky, a head-in-the-clouds kind of girl, free-feeling and more in touch with her spiritual side. Veronique on the other hand was to be earthy, rather straight-forward, someone who didn’t feel guilty to suggest to her friend that she could lie on her behalf in court about a man she was supposed to have slept with.

    What is important though is that something happens to Veronique and she changes her mind and later refuses to do it for her friend. Incidentally, this sub-plot was originally in the script a very strong plot but in the end, since it caused such a distraction, Kieslowski decided to almost completely cut it from the final version of the film except for the bits that we see left, such as when we see the man in question, waits on the steps outside her apartment and asks her ‘Why?’ which also happens to be what Veronique says to the puppeteer when he mentions what he was interested in trying to achieve regarding a woman.

    We don’t know that it’s necessarily about two women. One viewer has commented that Weronika might be Veronique’s conscience. Another viewer hinted that Weronika might be Veronique’s soul. Also, there is no woman’s paranoia in this film at all. At no point in the film was it as if Veronique was being raped. Raped by whom? Certainly not the puppeteer. Nor was Veronique dying to make love to the puppeteer; rather she was continually looking for something missing in her life and the puppeteer was possibly the one to help her. This is Kieslowski with his ongoing search for something that he subtly hints at in his films.

    The opera was fantastic? What opera? I must have missed it. Weronika singing at the recital is not clear and loud – there is something not quite right. The whole point is that her voice tends to waver at times despite her otherwise being a good choiriste. The voice coach is the first one to pick up on this.

    The desolate city in The Double Life Of Veronique that Kieslowski paralleled with Krakow is Clermont Ferrand, 260 miles south of Paris, which Kieslowski took considerable time to find – it had to be grey, dull and old to parallel Krakow.

    There was no homeless guy in the Dekalog series; there was an observant stranger in the first 9 episodes of the Dekalog and absent from the 10th which Kieslowski said he deliberately left out because the 10th was meant to be a comedy (albeit, a black comedy).

    The old lady is a different lady in all 4 films. She simply represents an older, long-forgotten generation that a younger one might be quite unconcerned about. Valentine, of course, is in touch with such because of what she represents in terms of innocent kindness.

    About ‘meaning’ in Kieslowski’s films: I have put a short post up this morning on my website with some excerpts from Danusia Stok’s autobiographical book, Kieslowski on Kieslowski. It may be of interest.

    Do widzenia!

    Alexandre Fabbri
    KIESLOWSKI’S WORLD

    • Damn, you obviously have studied this film a lot more than me.

      I apologise if it sounds as if we are referring to the two women as one, I do realize they are two!

      The character transformation was noticeable with Veronique, and the ‘rape’ we were referring to may not have been a physical act of love but rather a climactic moment for both the film and Veronique’s relationship with the man in the scene. It’s difficult to explain what we mean, and I know that might sound like a sign we don’t know anything at all, but our explanation might be just a little too vague.

      The opera she was referring to was not necessarily Weronika singing, but rather the soundtrack at a certain part. The score all throughout the movie is phenomenal.

      As for the Stranger and the Woman, I see them as figures of Kieslowski’s that are quite important. They are not quite the same person, but they are an extension of the same person; perhaps the Stranger is an extension of Kieslowski, observing without speaking.

      Thank you for the comment, I will have a look at your site.

  3. I might have studied the film for longer but I know little more than you. Kieslowski said there was part of him in all his films but he would never say what. Not even his wife knew. He said it was something that only he would ever know. The Stranger as an extension of Kieslowski? Very possibly. Observing without speaking. Yes, defintely. He does not decide outcomes and yet he is seen observing at the most critical times of the film when events could fork differently depedning on what human beings have determined to do. An angel of God even? What do I know over anyone else? You see, I am really in the same boat. In fact, I have more questions now than ever before. After more than 20 years of looking closely at Kieslowski’s films, I have come to realize how little I know, if anything, about him or even about myself and the impact of the decisions I make on that of the lives of others. As Kieslowski once said, “If I had to formulate the message of my Decalogue, I’d say, ‘Live carefully, with your eyes open, and try not to cause pain.’ “

    • Wow. 20 years of studying Kieslowski. That’s commitment. I love the Decalogue to death, I really do, and I think that it exists possibly as an essay on morality. The final quote you just said from Kieslowski about living carefully and trying not to cause pain reinforces that.

      I see Dekalog as an essay on the mistakes and frailties of humanity; how, emotionally, we react to certain scenarios and how our choices can have unfathomable circumstances. I think that there is someone in every episode, one of the characters, who at some point makes a bad choice; even one with minor effect at the time, and Kieslowski is trying to demonstrate the long term effect of this. What if the man had never murdered the taxi driver in 5? What if the woman had never discovered the truth about her father in 4? What if the boy and his father decided not to rely on technology in 1? There are so many different outcomes that it’s difficult to list even some of them, and I think Kieslowski is trying to tell us to choose our path wisely; not necessarily to live by the Ten Commandments, but to take them into your mind and process them when making decisions, because they really are pivotal in every day life; whether you believe in religion is irrelevant. I, personally, am an atheist, but I see the importance of the Ten Commandments as teaching tools, and Kieslowski obviously did as well.

  4. This film was my first contact with Kieslowski and let me say I was fascinated. The film in itself is a truly cinematic experience, the way he uses the colors and the camera movement is just perfect. And if we talk about screenplay I will have to say that it is just superb.

    This is a must see for cinema lovers!

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