Friday, 10 February 2012

#28 Poland — The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

I actually started writing a review of Wojciech Has' post-surrealist masterpiece The Hourglass Sanatorium, but decided it was a lost battle trying to write anything on the film whilst assuming limited prior knowledge. So instead you get to hear (read) me gush about colour use and music for 500 words or so. Lucky you.

There are very few directors who can claim the same consistency and mastery of an art form that Kieslowski had. He made five of the most important and arguably best works of the nineties in a row, until retiring and tragically dying of a heart attack at the age of 54.

I don't know of any director with a better control of colour and music. The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colours Trilogy demonstrate an almost perfect attunement to their use.

In this film, the use of a greeny-yellow colour filter gives everything a gorgeous autumnal feel as opposed to just washing everything else out (cf. A Very Long Engagement). The reds and greens in the frame seem to slowly separate out over the film as Veronique moves towards some understanding of her life. These go together to give a magical, fantastical air to proceedings. The cinematographical flairs present throughout give a virtuosic finish to the film's visual style.

The music is hauntingly beautiful and is a definite contender for my favourite musical score (perhaps equal with Joe Hisaishi's accompaniment to Hana-Bi). Zbigniew Preisner (yes, I had to look up the spelling) constructed a very dramatic soundtrack which blends with the content perfectly. Themes pop up every now and then to show vague memories or feelings that Veronica has. It is similar to Blue's usage of music, but a bit more subtle (I'm not saying anything against Blue here, that utilisation fits well in the themes of the film).

Irène Jacob is captivating as the double lead. She plays the characters with innocence, grace, tenderness and inquisitivity. The viewer can't help but fall in love with her and pray that her situations come to a happy end. The fact that she's utterly gorgeous does help her case somewhat. The rest of the cast put in good performances, but all are overshadowed by Jacob and the focus Kieslowski puts on her characters.

I don't want to spoil any of the plot, as it is very interesting to watch unfold. Lets just say it involves double lives, musicians and lots of Irène Jacob.

Although I could sit and appreciate the film just for the acting, cinematography and music, there is a lot of depth which becomes more and more apparent on multiple viewings. Anyone who enjoys humanistic films will have a field day here. The themes of human connections and relationships are deeply and profoundly explored. There is also the feeling of chance and fate which Kieslowski would come to focus on in Red. Due to the openness of the plot and depth of the main character(s), the experience is a very personal one; someone else may take something completely different out of their viewing from me. This increases the connection which one — or I, at least — has with the work.

The Double Life of Veronique is one of the few films which seems to get everything right. I can't find a flaw in any of its aspects, although some may argue that the plot gets a bit complicated at points. It is a film which goes for the heart, mind and soul in equal measures and hits all three. If you appreciate art, watch this.

Also recommended from Poland:
Other films by Kieslowski (Three Colours Trilogy, Dekalog, Camera Buff)
Wojciech Has (The Hourglass Sanatorium, The Saragossa Manuscript)
Roman Polanski (Repulsion, A Knife in the Water)
Andrzej Zulawski (Possession, The Third Part of the Night)
Andrzej Wajda (War Trilogy)
Wladyslaw Starewicz (The Cameraman's Revenge, The Mascot)
Zbigniew Rybczynski (Tango)


  1. Two words: Blind Chance

    1. Still not seen Blind Chance. I'll get round to a double bill of that and The Scar. They're the only two of his non-documentary features I've not seen if memory serves.

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