Other than Irene Jacob’s beautiful face, Slawomir Idziak’s fantastic cinematography is the only reason to endure Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique. If the look was matched with a great story, we would have a classic. Instead, the film is like a beautiful girl who fancies herself a deep thinker, but proves otherwise.
- Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
- Writer: Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krzysztof Piesiewicz
- Cast: Irene Jacob, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Halina Gryglaszewska
The year is 1990. Weronika (Jacob) lives in Poland and Veronique (Jacob, also) lives in Paris. Weronika is part of a choir, is in a relationship, and has a sick aunt in Krakow that she makes it a point to visit. One day Weronika is passing through a protest rally where she notices a French tourist taking photos of the protestors. The tourist is Veronique. Veronique teaches music, and unbeknownst to her, Weronika will suffer a tragic accident during a performance of the works of 18th century composer, Van den Budenmayer. After attending a marionette performance with her class, Veronique leads her class in a musical piece by Van den Budenmayer—the same piece performed by Weronika when her tragic accident occurred. Yes, that’s the bare bones of the plot.
Director Krzysztof Kieslowski never considered himself an artist because he didn’t offer answers (which is an understatement). He saw himself as a craftsman, one who attempted to use film as a way to pose questions. For this approach to work the “posed” questions must not only be interesting, they must be questions that leads the audience to ask for themselves, but the only question I kept asking myself was “What is the point?” To watch pointless films and then have the filmmaker claim he intends to leave things inconclusive is insulting. Is this art? Along the way, there are objects that are meant to have a profound meaning, such as a mysterious letter containing a shoelace and a small clear rubber ball. If you have to use words like “metaphysical”, “enigmatic” and “didactic” to explain a film, there is a strong possibility that you are experiencing a film where stuff is being thrown up at a wall to see what sticks.
Film scholar Annette Insdorf likes to point out that a young French teenager, upon seeing this film, argued that you cannot analyze this movie by its plot summary, dialogue or exposition. So what are you supposed to analyze? The teen said “you should appreciate this film for its ‘haunting moments of visual epiphany and poetic visual aspects,’ for I now finally understand that there might be something called a soul.” If this is the case, I would be content to stand amongst those considered soulless.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
Mr. Ebert, you warn us that “It is important to resist the temptation to figure out every last detail, that way lies frustration”. However, all things considered, I can’t enjoy this film. The “mysterious and poetic” elements have been grossly overstated. You end your first review of this film in 1991 with a series of questions. The questions you ask are interesting, but not because of the film. In your second review in 2009, you go into greater detail to explain that this film is meant more to evoke than to explain. I respect that, but for that actual evoking has to occur. If the film wasn’t pretentious enough, listening to the analysis of Annette Insdorf on the Criterion DVD is even worse. Her commentary is filled with more assumptions than all the wrong guesses on an LSAT. At one point she says, “notice the red background of the bed while she’s having sex, it recalls the red background in front of which the Polish Veronique collapses.” It’ s too bad the director is not alive to tell us whether or not red sheets are all he could find. There is another scene where Veronique is rubbing a ring along her lower eyelid. Why? We don’t know. However, according to Insdorf, circular images tie the film together. She says, “we must move through this film not analytically, but metaphysically”. To quote a character from the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales: “please don’t piss on my back and tell me it’s raining”.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: BAD
Do you like The Double Life of Veronique? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: Viridiana
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of 354 films. Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique this week, he now has 275 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.