Podwójne życie Weroniki" / "The Double Life of Véronique", A 1991 motion picture directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski.
The film takes place in the mid '80s. On the same day and hour two twin-like girls are born - Weronika in Poland and Veronique in France. The girls are like doubles: physically and mentally similar, both blessed with musical talent. There are many other parallels in their lifes, however the differences become more important, because these differences are what make up the story of Krzysztof Kieślowski's film. The girls do not know of each other and live far apart. Only once they briefly pass one another. Weronika sees Veronique in a sightseeing bus in Kraków, but remains unsure of what she has seen. The French girl, however, will notice much later her double in a random photograph taken at that exact moment.
"The Double Life of Véronique" is Krzystof Kieślowski's first international film created after an unexpected worldwide success of "The Decalogue". "The Decalogue" was not received as well in Poland as in Western Europe and this was much the case with "Véronique". Polish critics attempted to read the film in a political context, accustomed to such an interpretation. The dearth of critical praise was also a result of a certain confusion connected to the fact that one of the characters was French and the other was Polish. The comparison of their lives created by scriptwriters Kieślowicz and Piesiewicz imposed such an interpretation. The inferior quality of the "Polish variant" - the death of the character, which was kind of "created as a test", as an experiment of a mysterious demiurge - was imposed by the nationality. To put it simply, Polish was a synonym for worse. For many years, we've become accustomed to thinking this way about our environment and also ourselves - so the critics' approach was understandable. Poland's Weronika was inferior to her French counterpart, easily destroyed just so that Veronique could have it better.
Kieślowski, however deprecated such an analysis. The ambiguity of interpretation has become the norm in this case. It was a phenomenon so significant and apprehensible that the recepion of the film itself became the subject of film specialist Mirosław Przylipiak's sketches.
"'The Double Life of Véronique' aroused a lot of controversy when it came to its message. As per the widespread opinion of the films' supporters, it pertained to the elusive dimension of human existence. Adverse film critics accused it of a lack of distinctive line of meaning, avoidance and feigned deepness, too much like a fairy tale. The relationship between Poland and Europe - an important subject of the critical discussion - was percieved from two aspects. Analyses were in major part based on the question of why the film was (allegedly) more recognised in the West rather than in Poland and that it results from either the bad attitude (or incompetence) of the Polish critics or the hunger for spirituality in the West. It was also said that the relationship between Weronika and Veronique could be a metaphor for the relations between Poland and France, or more broadly – the rest of Europe. The formal side of the film was generally acclaimed, the pictures, music, the acting of Irène Jacob and the harmonized whole was enthused, however some thought that the beauty of the film covered its emptiness."
- Mirosław Przylipiak, Kwartalnik Filmowy / Film Quarterly 24/1998
Kieślowski himself spoke on this matter:
"In Poland I've been in a conflict with film critics 'since always' and this will go on probably through the rest of my life. (…) But as how the critics received 'Veronique' I absolutely can not complain, although even if they did like it, they wrote: 'It's a beautiful film - there's something even too beautiful about it', 'It's such a moving film - I'm not sure though if it isn't too moving', 'something smells like commercialism', 'It's too beautiful, too moving', 'This character, she's just too good', 'This actress is too snugly'. This is the feedback of serious criticism, angry, that it's not about Poland and our issues, it's not about Polish history and the present times."
- Krzysztof Kieślowski, "Autobiography. About myself," Znak, Kraków 1997
There were also allegations concerning workshop matters. Maria Malatyńska wrote:
"In spite of it being the same actress (playing both roles) and the assertion that these girls and their lives are a mirrored parallelism, it is easy to sense a complete separateness of both stories. What's more, the very language of the film seems insistent, in order to 'forcefully' create this unity. It is created not only through the choice of a single actress, but also because of the stylistic uniformity of the pictures. A little unrealistic, presented in similar color tones, gold-yellowish and deliberately darkened, forming suggestions of an image... an internal image(...). It's just that something strange occurs. This 'coercion' and 'forcefullness' causes that under all this onrism, we begin to suspect emptiness, and from the aspect of the artists' right to 'go beyond the reality' - the actual artificiality of the whole idea".
-Echo Krakowa / Echo of Kraków, No. 3, November 1991
The author does not wish for "The Double Life of Véronique" to serve as a metaphor of the unsuccessful fate of Poles. It is, rather, for some a moving, for others false - another attempt after the film "Blind Chance" / "Przypadek" at defining the human condition in the most existential sense. Again, as in his previous motion picture, Kieślowski strives to percieve the human as an actor fulfilling the script written for him (or different versions of the script), whose authorship remains in the sphere of metaphysics exceeding the possibilities of rational comprehension.
"The film speaks of the necessity of choice, before which we perpetually stand. It speaks of the duality of the soul, about the secrets of our nature, the recesses of consciousness to which - often - we can never get to. About strange, mysterious bonds between people. "Weronika" is also a film about the Prince and the Beggar, who differ from one other, but have even more in common. It depends only to us who we deem the Prince, and who is the Beggar".
-Maciej Pawlicki Film 51 -52 / 1992
In Krzystof Kieślowski's pessimistic vision of a man as someone utterly small and powerless, like Witek Długosz in "Blind Chance" and Weronika in "The Double Life". The scenario for Weronika is not optimistic - because of a minor accident (finger injury) the girl loses a chance to become a professional pianist, but thanks to her beautiful voice she gets into the Kraków Philharmonic choir. Art is the most important thing for her. Weronika ignores the feelings that begin to appear between her and Antek, a boy from her hometown. From the perspective of destiny, she makes the wrong choice. Heart troubles bring on death at her first concert.
Witek Długosz, the main character of "Blind Chance" goes through the three succeeding variants. In "The Double Life of Véronique" everything is sort of parallel, there are two girls, two puppets play two different versions of fate. One turns out to be less successful and this puppet is only a trial version, created (produced) by the Great Director of human fate only for the next one to be more successful.
The fate of Weronika runs almost parallel to the fate of French Veronique, ahead only by an inch. Weronika makes mistakes and pays for them. Veronique does not have to suffer these circumstances. (finger injury, death due to heart disease). Through a mysterious way, she receives intuitive signals that make her act differently than her trial version. They share an indissoluble bond, so after the death of Weronika, Veronique suffers a strange metaphysical feeling of loss and anxiety.
A recognisable hint of such an interpretation can be found in the film. One day Veronique meets Alexander, a book author and director of puppet shows for children. Veronique is a music teacher in Paris and takes vocal lessons herself. She leads a peaceful life filled with daily activities. In the school where she teaches, she participates with her pupils as spectators in a traveling puppet show. She is captivated by a play about a ballet dancer who breaks her leg and dies but is gifted with butterfly wings in her second life. It turns out that the author of the play is Alexander, a peculiar demiurge of the puppet world. Veronique is intrigued why the man prepared two identical puppets for his following play. She finds out that Alexnder deliberately made twin dolls that are singers explaining that the puppets tend to easily get ruined during the performances, so there always is a spare one.
Therefore, the young man appears as kind of a messenger who reveals part of a secret to Veronique. Thanks to him she begins to understand that she is sort of the ballerina from his play. And perhaps it is that way, because as it were in the final scene summarising the history of the two Veronicas, Veronique plays with the two dolls and hums the song which Polish Weronika did not manage to finish.
"The Double Life of Véronique" ("La double vie de Veronique"), France, Norway, Poland 1991. Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski, script: Krzysztof Kieślowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, camerawork: Sławomir Idziak, scenography: Patrice Mercier, Halina Dobrowolska, music: Zbigniew Preisner. Featuring: Irène Jacob (Weronika and Veronique), Philippe Volter (Alexandre Fabri), Kailna Jędrusik ("Gaudy women"), Aleksander Bardini (conducter), Władysław Kowalski (Weronika's father), Halina Gryglaszewska (Weronika's aunt), Sandrine Dumas (Catherine), Jerzy Gudejko (Antek, Weronika's boyfriend), Janusz Sterniński (lawyer), Louis Ducreux (professor), Claude Duneton (Veronique's father), Lorraine Evanoff (Claude), Guillaume de Tonquedec (Serge), Gilles Gaston-Dreyfus (Jean-Pierre), Alain Frerot (postman), Youssef Hamid, Thierry de Carbonnieres (professor), Chantal Neuwirth (recepcionist), Nausicaa Rampony (Nicole), Bogusława Schubert, Jacques Potin, Nicole Pinaud, Philippe Campos, Beata Malczewska, Dominika Szady, Barbara Szałapak, Jacek Wójcicki, Lucyna Zabawa, Wanda Kruszewska, Bernadetta Kuś, Pauline Monier. Production: Sideral Productions, Le Studio Canal+, co-production: TOR Film Studio. Color film, 93 min.
- 1991 - Irène Jacob, Cannes International Film Festival, Best Actress award; Krzysztof Kieślowski, FIPRESCI prize; National Society of Film Critic Award for Best Foreign Language Film;
- 1992 - "Golden Tape" award of the Polish Film Association, "Golden Duck" of the "Film" magazine.
Author: Ewa Nawój, April 2011. Translated by Sylwia Wojda, July 2011.