Blu-Ray Review: Mesmerizing Power of ‘The Double Life of Veronique’

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CHICAGO – Stanley Kubrick put it perfectly when he said that the great Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski found a way to dramatize what other people merely talk about. There’s a reason “The Three Colors Trilogy” had already become a part of a college philosophy class by the time I graduated college in the mid-’90s. With “The Decalogue,” “Three Colors,” and “The Double Life of Veronique,” recently released by Criterion on Blu-ray, the man became a legend. And, as this wonderful edition proves, deservedly so. Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0

The rapturous response to the premiere of “The Double Life of Veronique” at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won Best Actress for star Irene Jacob, is completely understandable. One can only imagine critics like Roger Ebert strolling back into the streets of Cannes after feeling the philosophical punch of this unusual film and just allowing it to roll around in their brain like a fine Bordeaux. Kieslowski’s films can be nearly underwhelming for most of their running time and then hit you with the force of a spiritual revelation. Although I personally adore “Decalogue” and “Red” above all else, “Veronique” has that amazing power as well. It is a film that does more than just entertain and yet also doesn’t feel like an overcooked metaphor. It works on multiple levels, including ones other filmmakers would never even consider.

The Double Life of Veronique was released on Blu-Ray on February 1st, 2011
The Double Life of Veronique was released on Blu-Ray on February 1st, 2011
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Kieslowski claimed that “Veronique” wasn’t a political piece but that seems nearly impossible to believe considering its West vs. East dynamic and how its two lead characters reflect an (at least at the time) old-world mentality in Poland and a new one in France. Of course, one can never forget that Kieslowski himself was a Polish director working in France and so a piece about a character from each country naturally needs to be read as a personal one as well. Whatever inspired Kieslowski, the only shame of “The Double Life of Veronique” is that it would be one of this modern master’s final films.

The Double Life of Veronique was released on Blu-Ray on February 1st, 2011
The Double Life of Veronique was released on Blu-Ray on February 1st, 2011
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Jacob, who also appeared in “Red” but was never better than she is here, plays the title role of Weronika/Veronique. The Polish half opens the film as Weronika becomes nearly overwhelmed by the passion for music inside her during a rainstorm. The relatively-tame sexual encounter that follows is intentional in that it’s clear that she gets more out of creative passion than physical. The character is instantly sketched as a deeper-than-average being, especially when she expresses the common feeling that she’s not quite alone in this world, even when no one else is in the room. When she sees her doppelganger across a square, it is a striking moment (not only for its unique, almost-supernatural undertones) but because it takes place in the middle of a riot that is of no concern to our lead. It is a surreal moment that’s truly memorable.

In a way that happens early but I still won’t spoil here, the action of the movie turns to Veronique, the “French version” of the character also played by Jacob. The final two acts of the film become increasingly surreal and philosophical (especially in the use of marionettes to imply that none of us really have control over our lives or fates) without going off the rails into ghost story or other such supernatural material. It is a mood piece, a mesmerizing film that either doesn’t have much going on plot-wise or is the most complex movie ever made, depending on how you look at it. It is a movie with two halves of what could be the same identity that can also be appreciated two ways — as philosophy or pure, lavish entertainment.

The way it works as the latter, especially in HD, is through some of the best work of the career of the great cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (who would go on to shoot “Gattaca,” “Black Hawk Down,” and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”). “The Double Life of Veronique” is a beautiful movie and, for that reason alone, deserves to be included in your HD arsenal.

Of course, once again, the special features are stunning; even more so than average for Criterion. Short films, a commentary, interviews, a documentary, an alternate ending shot at the request of the Weinsteins for U.S. audiences — this is an amazing wealth of material. Criterion has done it again.

Special Features:
o Audio commentary featuring Annette Insdorf, author of Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema Of Krzysztof Kieslowski
o Three short documentaries by Kieslowski: “Factory” (1970), “Hospital” (1976), “Railway Station” (1980)
o The Musicians, a short film by Kieslowski’s teacher Kazimierz Karabasz
o The U.S. ending
o Kieslowski - Dialogue, a documentary featuring a candid interview with Kieslowski and rare behind-the-scenes footage from the set of The Double Life Of Veronique
o 1966-1988: Kieslowski, Polish Filmmaker, a 2005 documentary tracing the director’s work in Poland, from his days as a student through The Double Life Of Veronique
o Video interviews with actress Irene Jacob, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, and composer Zbigniew Preisner
o Plus: a booklet featuring an essay by critic Jonathan Romney and selections from Kieslowski On Kieslowski

“The Double Life of Veronique” stars Irene Jacob and was written by Krzysztof Kieslowski & Krzysztof Piesiewicz and directed by Kieslowski. It was released by The Criterion Collection on February 1st, 2011. content director Brian Tallerico

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