A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Double Life of Véronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1991)

The Netflix series Sense8 is about eight people born at the same moment in widely dispersed parts of the world. Each possesses the psychic gift to communicate with the others, sometimes to rescue one of the eight from danger. (They also occasionally participate in rather impressive group sex. Perhaps as a team-building exercise.) Sense8 takes the ancient idea that everyone has a Doppelgänger -- a physical and sometimes psychic twin -- and cubes it, eliminating the physical identity while boosting the psychic one. Krzystof Kieslowski sticks to the more traditional idea of the Doppelgänger in The Double Life of Véronique, in which Irène Jacob plays both a Polish woman named Weronika and a French woman named Véronique. Neither is fully aware of the other's existence, although Weronika once tells her father that she doesn't feel alone in the world, and Véronique tells hers that she has a feeling she has lost someone, as indeed she has: Weronika has died. Their paths crossed only once, when Véronique visited Kraków as a tourist, but although Weronika saw her double on a tour bus, Véronique learns of her existence only later, when she examines a photograph she took that includes Weronika. Kieslowski's film, from a screenplay he wrote with Krzysztof Piesewicz, deals with the parallel lives of the two women and with their emotional and symbolic intersections. It's all remarkably done, with a superb performance by Jacob that equals and sometimes surpasses her work in Kieslowski's Three Colors: Red (1994), and extraordinarily expressive cinematography by Slawomir Idziak that manipulates colors with haunting effect. As with Red, however, I feel a bit let down by Kieslowski's tendency to go for sentiment: I'm left with a feeling that there's something hollow at the film's core, a lack of substance underlying the impressive acting and technique. Still, a lesser director than Kieslowski might have gone all the way, to a Hollywood-style romantic ending instead of the somewhat ambiguous one he gives us.