Double Life of Veronique (The) AKA La Double vie de Véronique
R1 - America - Criterion Collection
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (20th December 2006).
The Film

The films of Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski are things of beauty, especially his later films. "The Double Life of Veronique" is one such film as well as "The Three Colors Trilogy" (1993-1994) which were his final films before his death in 1996. Kieslowski came from a documentary perspective which is probably the reason he's so good at depicting human drama, and just like human life itself nothing is ever simple, as a result "The Double Life of Veronique" requires an investment in the characters without such an investment the film's themes and visual poetry will certainly be lost on the viewer.
"The Double Life of Veronique" tells the story of two young women, Weronika from Poland and Veronique from France, both played by Irene Jacob. Their lives are inexplicably connected, parallels between the two are evident in their personalities. They seem to be aware of one another, yet they never actually meet. The only time they come close is when Weronika sees Veronique board a bus in a public square in Krakow, Veronique is taking pictures of the demonstrations when Weronika is stopped in her tracks by the uncanny resemblance to herself.
While pursuing a singing career, Weronika suddenly collapses in the middle of a performance and is presumed dead, meanwhile in France Veronique chooses to quit her musical career and tries to discover another course for her life when she becomes involved with a children's book author and puppeteer, Alexandre (Philippe Volter), who has sent her unmarked clues through the post in an effort to see if she can find him. While attempting to learn more about Veronique by looking at the contents of her purse, Alexandre discovers a photograph of her Polish counterpart taken while she was boarding that bus in Krakow and is the fist time Veronique is aware of her double. This pivotal scene can be interpreted as harboring the film's central themes of free will, Kieslowski plays with the idea of whether what we do is a simply part of a grand plan or whether it's simply by chance.
The film's themes are supplemented with a fantasy-like feel, this is represented by Sławomir Idziak's yellow filtered photography as well as Zbigniew Preisner's melodic musical score, which plays a pivotal role in the film as it connects our two doppelgangers. These elements are classic Kieslowski, as he is known for the use of evocative photography and the power of music as a narrative device as seen in "Blue" (1993) as well as the other films in "The Three Colors Trilogy". This almost supernatural effect creates a heightened sense of reality but is never truly explained in the context of the film and is left to the viewer to decide the overall impact of it's style.
The film's pacing may not be suited to mainstream tastes, despite running under 100 minutes the film does move at a slow pace which allows viewers to take in the visual beauty of the shots and allows Kieslowski to fill the screen with subtle clues about the characters. Idziak's camerawork is a tremendous achievement and sets the mood and creates an ambiance that deserves a slow pace just to take it all in.
Actress Irene Jacob has delivered a beautifully subtle performance that evokes a fragility not often seen as both these characters, originally the role was cast to Andie MacDowell but after seeing Jacob in this film it's hard to imagine anyone else playing these two characters and was rewarded with a Best Actress Award at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.
"The Double Life of Veronique" stands a brilliant piece of cinema, Kieslowski chose to focus his camera on internal stories that involve the viewers in an experience that is both thoughtful and engaging, while it may not be for everyone this film should be given a try at the very least. While film fans that have fallen under Kieslowski's spell will need no encouragement in picking this one up.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.66:1 this anamorphic transfer presents the film with stunning clarity, the image is sharp and beautifully detailed. The colors are well balanced, although I did spot some minor color bleed in the reds, but this wasn't too much of a nuisance. Blacks are deep and bold with shadow detail remaining consistently good throughout. I could not spot any flaws in this print, dirt and damage is nowhere to be found. Yet again The Criterion Collection have delivered a film with a respectful and polished transfer.

Audio

The Criterion Collection presents the film with its original Polish/French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. This soundtrack is also a very good effort, dialogue is nice and clear and is presented without distortion, the music is well rendered and powers through the speakers, some subtle ambient noise is also evident in the track but being a Stereo track it does lack the punch that a 5.1 mix wold have provided. Otherwise purists can be happy to learn that this original track is included and does a fine job.
Optional subtitles are included in English only. The subtitles are 16x9 friendly and are a nice size on-screen. The subtitles are easy to read and feature no grammatical or spelling errors and appear on-screen for long enough to read without having to stop and rewind.

Extras

The Criterion Collection has included a series of well produced extras that includes an audio commentary, a collection of short films, an alternate ending, 2 documentaries a series of interviews plus a booklet. Below is a closer look at these supplements broken down per disc.

DISC ONE:

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by Annette Insdorf the author of "Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski", Insdorf focuses on the the narrative elements on the film as well as the subtleties in Kieslowski's cinema, she sheds light on the symbolism of certain objects, music and shot choices but mainly stays close to the character's motivations and the storytelling techniques of the Polish director. In a way this track can be seen as a lesson in the man's style of cinema as well as the intricacies of the film. Insdorf's tone is quite dry and there are occasional gaps so patience and concentration is required for this otherwise excellent commentary.

Next up is the film's "U.S. Ending" this alternate ending runs for 5 minutes 16 seconds and includes just four additional shots, the film's U.S. distributor Miramax requested that the ending have more closure, after Veronique touches the tree, her father steps out the house, she gets out of her car and hugs him, the ending is followed by the credits that appeared at the end of the U.S. prints.

Also included on this disc are 4 short documentary films one by Kieslowski's film school teacher Kazimierz Karabaszby and the others by Kieslowski himself. The first film from Karabasz by is entitled "The Musicians" from 1958 and runs for 10 minutes 17 seconds, this film was a major influence on Kieslowski and follows a group of musicians as they rehearse a number.

The first film from Kieslowski is entitled "Factory" from 1970 and runs for 17 minutes 56 seconds. This was his first professional film after leaving film school, the film focuses on the goings on of a foundry as we are present in a meeting of the staff. The second short is entitled "Hospital" from 1976 and runs for 20 minutes 48 seconds, this film focuses on the doctors and nurses of a Polish Hospital as they examine and operate on patients, take breaks and collect their pay among other things. Finally "Railway Station" from 1980 runs for 13 minutes 5 seconds and is more of the same, this time the focus is...a railway station. These films do not provide any interviews with staff, but rather an unbiased eye into their everyday work.

DISC TWO:

First up on this disc is the documentary "Kieslowski - Dialogue" a 1991 film that features an interview with Kieslowski as well as some behind-the-scenes footage taken during the filming of "The Double Life of Veronique " this feature runs for 54 minutes 22 seconds and is probably the stand out extra on this DVD. The filmmaker talks about the film and his sensibilities, she shares his thoughts about film making and also comments on making films in Poland and having to deal with issues such as censorship but most interestingly he talks about his perception of the film among other fascinating topics.

Next is another documentary entitled "1966-1988: Kieslowski, Polish Filmmaker" which was produced in 2005 and runs for 30 minutes 52 seconds. This feature covers the filmmakers career in Poland from his time as a student at the Lodz Film School through to the making of "The Double Life of Veronique" and provides a wonderful insight into the Polish film scene and provides film students and fans of his work with a background knowledge surrounding the filmmaker and his work. This is certainly worth a look and is one of a long line of excellently produced features by Criterion.

Following that is a new video interview with the film's cinematographer Sławomir Idziak which runs for 24 minutes 14 seconds and was recorded in 2006. In this clip Idziak talks about attending film school with Kieslowski and eventually working with each other years later on his first feature film. He comments on the circumstances in which one can leave Poland (either if you were an athlete or artist) which was the primary motivation to go to film school, he also comments on his work with the filmmaker throughout the different projects as well as "The Double Life of Veronique", he sheds insight into the casting process, the locations in France as well as the lighting and composition of the film among other things.

Next is another video interview with the film's composer Zbigniew Preisner which runs for 21 minutes 12 seconds and was also filmed in 2006 for this DVD edition. Preisner also talks about how he met Kieslowski and how they got to working together, a relationship that lasted 17 films in 9 years. He provides background on his own career as well as the scoring of the film and the understanding of music in film among other things.

Next is a video interview with the film's star Irène Jacob and runs for 16 minutes 42 seconds, in this 2005 interview the actress talks about auditioning for the film and meeting the director for the first time, her first impressions and then working with him on this film. She comments on his style of direction which involves the actor in creating depth to the performance and his desire to film instances of intuition and feelings that haven't been filmed before. She shares her memories from the productions and of Kieslowski in this interesting and engaging clip.

Rounding out the extras is an excellent 64-page booklet that features new essays on the film and it's filmmaker, they include:

- "Through the Looking Glass" an essay by film critic Jonathan Romney.
- "The Forced Choice of Freedom" an essay by Philosipher Slavoj Zizek.
- "Kieslowski's Muse" an essay by film critic Peter Cowie.
- "Pure Emotions: The Double Life of Veronique" an excerpt from the book "Kieslowski on Kieslowski".

Packaging

This 2-disc DVD set is packaged in a handsome digi-pack case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: A+ Video: A+ Audio: B+ Extras: A+ Overall: A

 


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