Following the release of just about everything else the late great Krzystof Kieslowski made on DVD ('Blind Chance', 'Camera Buff', 'No End', 'The Scar', 'A Short Film About Killing', 'A Short Film About Love', 'The Dekalog' & 'The Three Colours Trilogy') it seemed odd that these key work that came between 'The Dekalog' & 'Three Colours' did not appear (I expect this was down to the dual identity of the film?).
Released in 1991, 'La Double Vie De Veronique'/'Podwonjne Zycie Werokiki' found Kieslowski working outside of Poland for the first time after the Iron Curtain had fallen. Due to the fact it can't be read as a political metaphor as his preceding work post 'Camera Buff' it confounded many - unlike 'Dekalog' & 'Three Colours' it couldn't be directly related to The Ten Commandments or the French Tri-Colour. In that way 'The Double Life of Veronique' feels closest to Tom Twyker's adaptation of Kieslowski/Piesiewicz's 'Heaven' which was filmed posthumously (& part of an uncompleted trilogy the two Krzystof's were working on based on 'The Divine Comedy').
The film begins in Poland as Weronika (Irene Jacob) a singer has portent of something to come - a key scene finds her double Veronique (Irene Jacob) take a photo of Weronika. Shortly after, Weronika collapses at a concert and dies - two scenes here are extremely powerful, one where Weronika has an out of body experience near a bench and the grim shot from her grave. The film shifts to France, and from death we meet Veronique once more in the throes of passion with her lover.
Veronique is not unlike Weronika in that she physically resembles her, has a beautiful singing voice and suffers from a similar heart condition. Veronique opts to reject the singing career that lead to Weronika's death and becomes a teacher, crossing paths with Alexandre a puppeteer whose enigmatic qualities attract Veronique. Later she begins to receive oblique messages - a shoe lace, a tape recording of a cafe, an empty cigar box. This leads in turn to Alexandre and the forgotten photographs Veronique took of Weronika during a riot - Alexandre thought the photo was of Veronique but it is in fact Weronika. Veronique realises she has a double, the revelation eventually leading her home in Kieslowski's enigmatic delight.
'The Double Life of Veronique' is a magical work, at one point Kieslowski wanted to release multiple versions, each with a minor difference be that extra scene or alternate cut. I feel it's one of those works you can lose yourself in, or rather, to - think "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea", the poetry of Rilke, Cocteau's 'Orphee', or Bulgakov's 'The Master & Margarita.' I'm not sure what Kieslowski & Piesiewicz are saying - something to do with the dual identity of Europe (France to Poland as Veronique to Weronika?)? Something to do with death? Something to do with fate?...but it has the clarity of the greatest dreams and feels somewhat neglected coming between the feted 'Dekalog/Short Films About...' & the celebrated 'Three Colours.' An enchanting work that is extremely welcome issued on DVD and a great work of cinema equal to such European masters as Bergman, Bresson, Cocteau, Fellini, & Tarkovsky. It's also one of the great films of the 1990s and a reminder of what was lost when Kieslowski died - part of his great oeuvre and one to discover, rediscover now on DVD...