The Double Life of Veronique


Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski. France, Poland. 1991

Talking Pictures alias







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Two exact look-alikes, the Polish Weronika and the French Véronique, inhabit the world of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s memorable The Double Life of Véronique. Both women are played by the same actress, the radiant Iréne Jacob, winner of the Best Actress award at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. Born on the same day, they have green eyes and dark hair, congenital heart problems, and are talented singers, one a music teacher, the other a choir soprano, though each has a somewhat different personality. By its very nature, the story defies rational explanation and Kieslowski does not offer any, but the premise suggests that the separate self is an illusion, a projection of mind rather than an inherent expression of ultimate reality.

Shot in Krakow, Poland and Paris, France, the film is suffused with the stunning cinematography of Slawomir Idziak and a sublime score by Zbigniew Preisner beginning with the song she sung by Weronica at her debut concert in Krakow. Weronica’s story fills the movie’s first thirty minutes. Weronica’s exuberance and childlike innocence are captured in the film’s early moments when, after an outdoor choir performance, she remains standing wide-eyed in the pouring rain, looking up at the sky, as the others run for shelter.

Strangely though, Weronica tells others about an odd feeling that she is not alone, a feeling that is reinforced when she catches a glimpse of her doppelganger, Véronique, in the center of a Krakow square photographing a political protest demonstration (though she does not pursue her or mention the incident to family or friends). Though Weronica’s desire to be a pianist was thwarted in an accident, her beautiful singing voice enables her to win a competition to join a musical company. As the young singer begins to perform her first concert, however, her heart condition sadly prevents her from continuing and the film shifts the remainder of its attention to Véronique.

As we first see Véronique, she is in the middle of making love but suddenly bursts into tears without explanation, the incident occurring at the same moment when Weronika suffers serious heart problems at her concert in Krakow. Véronique has given up a promising singing career because she intuitively knows that it is “wrong for her” and instead becomes a music teacher of young children. During this same period she also schedules a cardiogram as if she has had some kind of warning. The film is propelled by the emotions Véronique is experiencing: a strange feeling of being alone in a suddenly uncertain world and an unexplained sense of loss.

The mystery deepens when she begins to receive enigmatic packages in the mail from Alexandre (Philippe Volter), a puppeteer whose exquisite marionette performance she has seen and whose gifts are tied to objects from his children's stories. Concluding from listening to a cassette tape that was recorded at the Saint Lazare train station, she meets Alexandre, but her expectations of love are thwarted by his mundane reasons for the subterfuge, although it serves to enhance her sense of closeness with Weronica.

Though it is tempting to search for some sort of explanation, The Double Life of Veronique is better off not being analyzed but should be savored for its elusive and impenetrable poetry. If it has any point to make other than its captivating quality as a work of art, it may be that, in life, energy is wasted in trying to figure things out and that the only thing that makes sense is to submerge ourselves in its beauty and succumb to its mystery.


Howard Schumann

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