A Double Life.

Scene from The Double Life of Vernonique (1991) [photo from Tumblr]

I have a feeling that I’ve thought about the possibility of a “double life” before, but until I saw this film, my ideas were never clear.

There is one scene in particular which I loved, and it may have been the most important. It’s when Weronika sees Veronique from a distance and is mystified by their obvious symmetry (see screencap above).

During this scene, Weronika stares at the other woman with a stab of wonder at what seems to be impossible. Yet, owing to a mixture of odd feelings she had shared to her father many scenes earlier (“I feel that I am not alone in the world.”), she knows that she is not making insane speculations.

As Weronika follows Veronique’s movements with her eyes, I plead with her to move her limbs and follow the woman physically. Would you, if if you were to see someone who seemed to be an exact replica of you, be so curious enough to follow that person–just to observe, close up, how that other person differs from you? I keep thinking it’s what I would do. Examine the coordinates of our moles, check for birthmarks and scars, pitch of voice, shape of eyes… But then again, it might be terrifying, seeing a thinking entity who may have just stepped out of your mirror impersonating your gait and mannerisms. So, I reconsider and posit that perhaps Weronika’s reaction was sensible (although she hardly seemed to be daunted by her walking, smiling, other). She left it a mystery half-solved, to be thrust in a drawer, never to be opened again. Perhaps nothing is to be gained by acquainting with one’s “double,” (if there were such a thing) and the two worlds are best left alone. It is a sad thought, I think. It would be exciting–at least for the film–if they had really met. What would happen then, especially if we consider the idea that they are not supposed to meet? Would the world be in chaos because of a chance encounter?

From this I gather that Kieslowski is a smart fellow to play with our minds and make us see things we never saw before. I didn’t appreciate the movie that much right after I saw it, but now I feel its magic, although belated, circulating in my system.

The Double Life of Vernonique may not appeal to everyone, or immediately, such as in my case, but it is art in a great form. [That being said, I do not think Amelie (2001), which people on IMDb keep comparing it to, is lesser of an art just because it appeals to a wider audience. In fact, I find it atrocious to even think of comparing these films and concluding that because one is about love–a force that hooks a vast majority of viewers–it pales beside the deeper, “darker” film. I loved both films and think that this feat is pointless.]


2 Responses to “A Double Life.”

  1. 1 Alexandre Fabbri September 18, 2011 at 4:20 am

    Thank you for this interesting post. Kieslowski insisted to Irene Jacob, who played both roles, that the two girls had to be different from the other. They were not to be the same at all. It was important to Kieslowski that the audience understood that. The Polish Weronika was spiritual, intuitive, floating whereas Veronique was down-to-earth, human, even fallible. On an aside, there is the legend as well that if two doppelgangers meet, one of them will die.

    But you have raised a really important point: Supposing the two girls had gotten to know each other? What would have been the influence of one to the other? Would have they seen life in a different way with the thoughts of the other? Perhaps, they would have trusted the other to lead them respectively to something they were not yet aware of?

    As it happens, Kieslowski cut an important scene from the film. Weronika in the apartment is lying on her stomach, her feet waving in the air and the earplugs of a Walkman cassette recorder plugged into her ears. She is trying to follow and repeat the words of a foreign language. She rewinds the cassette a few seconds and repeats the passage from memory. Her Aunt, unnoticed, enters the room with a Christmas tree, opens the window and lays it on the edge and says: “It’s difficult.” Weronika, without looking up to see what her Aunt is doing, replies: “A bit.”

    This was Kieslowski. He cut anything from the film which he felt might too obvious to his audience. He did not wish to ever insult the intelligence of his audience. In an earlier scene, Weronika leans out of the train window, her mouth open breathing the air, her hair flying everywhere and suddenly it is pitch black – the speeding train has rushed into a dark tunnel. To Kieslowski, it was too obvious a reference to Weronika’s impending death, so he cut the scene completely.

    In fact, together with his film-editor Jacques Witta, he critically cut around a third of the film before he started to feel satisfied with it. This film and the later film Three Colours Red was the result of a special relationship between Kieslowski and Irene Jacob. Kieslowski understood her well and she, in turn, put her trust in him fully. After his death, it was never to be the same again.

    Once again, thank you for this thought-provoking post. Please feel free to browse my site and if you wish, add yourself to my Guestbook.

    Alexandre Fabbri

  2. 2 mysilversprings September 19, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Wow, I should thank you–a comment like this must be the most exciting thing that’s happened to my blog. (Interesting trivia too.) I have visited your site and I think it has just persuaded me to watch Kieslowski’s other films. They seem to challenge, and not at all insult, our intellect. My viewing of The Double Life of Veronique has opened my eyes to the beauty of film as art. Also, I never put so much energy into analyzing certain parts of any film before, like I did with The Double Life. Thanks so much!

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