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Double Life of Veronique (Criterion)

Best known in America for his Three Colors Trilogy, Krystov Kieslowski won two awards at Cannes for his sumptuous 1991 film The Double Life of Veronique. He cast then-unknown Irene Jacob as the lead in his first film following his influential Decalogue series. Jacob plays the roles of Veronique, a French music teacher, and Weronica, a Polish opera singer. Although the two women appear to be identical twins, they remain only faintly aware of each other’s presence and never meet.

Veronique played by Ir�ène Jacob and Alexandre Fabbri played by Philippe Volter. Courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

In an interview explaining her audition for the movie, Jacob describes an entire day of facial expressions, improvisation, and movement. Kieslowski was less interested in her acting ability and much more so in her natural instincts and presence. It seems he knew what he was doing, as she is one of the most beautiful exports from France since Catherine Deneuve. She floats in and out of frame like a ghost haunting the living. Her unusual beauty combined with the stunning cinematography of Slawomir Idziak evokes an ethereal environment that intensifies the viewer’s involvement with these two women. Will they ever meet? Are they two conflicting sides of the same person? Kieslowski raises the questions of identity, fate, and the purpose of human interaction, yet refuses to provide answers.

Irene Jacob communicates the complexity of character (two, in fact) through whimpers, sideways glances, and somber posture. Jacob affects such a strong visual presence that her part(s) are communicated through close ups and facial movements as much as through dialogue.

For a while it seems that the mystery merely serves the Polish filmmaker the opportunity for aesthetic showmanship. Every time a tragic element befalls Weronica, or something mysterious propels the action for Veronique, visual splendor abounds. In the hands of a lesser director this film would have suffered. However, Kieslowski rises to the occasion and _The Double Life of Veronique _stays with you long after the credits roll.

Despite the film’s lack of closure, it becomes clear halfway through that concern with unresolved details is futile. Watching Jacob through the lens of Kieslowski is a feast for the eyes. His quietness about her identity suits her strengths perfectly. By the end you are so satisfied by the beauty that the implausibility of the plot has been erased from your memory. You will be consumed by her character and presence, and that is the point Kieslowski is trying to make about identity. Every aspect is entirely open to interpretation; nothing is concrete. Previously unavailable on DVD in America, Criterion issued a substantial 2 disk set in November, including separate interviews with star Irene Jacob and Kieslowski, as well as a 2005 documentary on the Polish director that highlights his fruitful career and abrupt death at the age of 54.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2007

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