Movies of Kieslowski : The Double Life of Veronique

                                 Mystery is always said to be lying below the surface of ordinary as a 'shadowy double.' It is treated in great depth in Kieslowski's "The Double Life of Veronique." -- a film about emotions. It is about the unseen, unfathomable forces -- fate and chance -- that shape our lives even as we go about our banal everyday business. With a visual style, which can be called "luminous", it tells a complex story of two very young women, Veronika and Veronique (both played by Irene Jacob), living different but uncannily parallel lives, one in Poland and one in France.

                              The film opens with a voice-over announcing that these women were born on the same day in 1960 and shows each as a little girl being spoken to by a mother, who later dies. They both have gentle fathers to whom they are very close: both have beautiful singing voices, and both, incredibly, have a serious heart condition.

                           The first part of the film which is in Polish, concentrates on moments in the last days in the life of Veronika, a spontaneously joyful person whom we first meet singing ecstatically in a downpour while the rest of her chorus runs for cover. Veronika travels to Krakow from her hometown and wins a music competition allowing her to perform a celestially beautiful piece of music. During her debut concert, as she reaches for an impossibly high note, she perishes from a heart attack. Her story closes from the viewpoint of her glass-topped coffin; we watch, as though from the grave, dirt being shoveled from above onto the coffin until the screen becomes entirely black. In that moment we are brought to the bedroom of French-woman Veronique, who is making love with her boyfriend.

                      Veronique tells her boyfriend that she feels a deep sense of loss and sadness. Afterwards, she decides to give up her singing career, have her heart condition taken care of, and accept a job as a music teacher at a provincial elementary school. She visits her widowed father on occasion and seem resigned to a dull, but comfortable, life, until she attends a puppet performance at her school.

                         The performance is put in on the school auditorium, which is filled with excited children. The camera alternates shots of the children's faces with the puppet show conducted by a puppet master  named Alexandre Fabbri. Alexandre draws a ballerina from a black-box and sets it into a dance motion. The ballerina collapses, dies, and miraculously comes to life again as a angel-like being or a large winged butterfly, to the relief of the distressed school children. The beauty and psychological power of this scene is that, although the puppet is an automaton manipulated by a human master, we witness in its movements a grace and spirit that seem more soulful than those of a real human dancer.

The Puppet Show

                             During this performance, the camera catches Veronique looking into a backstage mirror and spotting the puppet master, Alexandre, absorbed in his work. He in turn sees her looking at him and seems disturbing by that fact. Beginning with this meeting in the mirror, a relationship develops between Veronique  and Alexandre. He begins to lure Veronique to him by sending her little mysterious items like a shoe-string, a phone call, and a tape with train station noises. In one shot of Veronique's apartment, an orange-yellow light dances around, like an angelic visitor, apparently cast by a mirror held by Alexandre in another apartment window.

                         It becomes clear later that this puppet master has somehow acquired knowledge of Veronique's double, Veronika, and is using this knowledge both to seduce Veronique and to fabricate a story for another of his puppet dramas. Once Veronique herself recognizes this, her relationship with Alexandre crumbles, and she returns in tears to her father's home.

                        How are we to understand these incidents? Although the age of Veronika-Veronique in this movie appears to be about twenty two, Kieslowski shows Veronique only as a 'girl, who has lost her mother but who is still attached to and haunted by this absent mother. Until she can in someway cut herself from her mother, she cannot develop a mature subjectivity that would allow her to act as an independent ego and, among other things, have a healthy relationship with a male. Both the death of Veronika and Veronique's encounter with Alexandre's puppets, represents phases of a young woman's psychological and spiritual development that provides clues to Kieslowski's understanding of the importance of the soul.

                      The Polish Veronika lives as a pure voice disconnected from her body -- a voice without a bearer, without an assignable place, floating in an intermediate space. So, Veronika' devotion to her voice is a symptom of her unwillingness or inability to give up her mother. We have a girl who is pure voice because she is not yet a subject. To become a subject, she would have to renounce the object which vouches for the fantasmatic link (with the mother).

Veronika Singing in the Concert

                     Unlike Veronika, Veronique does have an encounter with a male, Alexandre, which restimulates the kind of self-reflection and sense of emptiness that the death of Veronika first awakened in her. She says to her father, "I am in love. I just don't know with what." What fascinates her from the start about Alexandre is that she is the object of his gaze first mirrored during the puppet performance.What becomes clear as their relationship develops, however, is that what she loves in him is herself as she looks at her, not what he is in himself. Each time he sends mysterious objects, she is entranced by dreamy, shapeless possibilities in her soul to which he seems to hold the key and to which these items seems to be objective correlatives. 

                     Veronique remains immature. Unable to become a couple, she remains ultimately in the shadow of her double until she experiences a loss of her intimate fantasy. A young woman, who is fascinated by representations of reality that promise fantastically deep and rich experiences, prevents herself from knowing or loving the actual source of these phenomena.  

Conversation with Kieslowski 

The Double Life of Veronique - IMDb


Anonymous said...

Very interesting to read your point of view, now that I just watched the movie.
Your interpretation of Alexandre's role is indeed very interesting. Her coming back to her dad's house, I didn't really interpret it that way.

Arun Kumar said...

@themoonstone, Thanks for the comment. One thing you can be sure of Kieslowski's movies are the various interpretations. My fellow bloggers and friends has given various meanings for the roles and images in this movie.