review: la double vie de veronique by krzysztof kieslowski

“la double vie de veronique” is an exquisite film by polish director and screenwriter krzysztof kieslowski. it’s a delicate blend of metaphysical poetry, visual rhyming, translucent shots filled with the magic of fireflies, nostalgic music that seems to lead the film rather than underline it, and the sublime irene jacob.

she plays two identical-looking women (one in poland, one in france) whose parallel lives hardly ever intersect, yet they seem to share an eerie connection. perhaps it’s a meditation on the inchoate nature of the human soul and its yearning for completion, for perfect symmetry. could it be that life is like a kirigami snowflake, carefully folded and cut out to produce a delightful mirror image? what kind of unique patterns does human life produce?

and what role does chance or destiny play in these continuously shifting patterns? as usual, i am reminded of milan kundera. in his article “compassion for the ephemeral” (the guardian, march 17, 2007), craig raine explains:

Anna Karenina, Kundera argues, has a troubled relationship with Vronsky, but the efficient cause of her suicide is aesthetic. Surrounded by ugliness of every sort, she is reminded of the first time she met Vronsky – when a railway worker fell to his death under the train wheels. She can “give her love story a finished, beautiful shape” by ending her life in the same way. She succumbs to symmetry.

this incitement to symmetry, this unconscious human desire to shape life with the measured rhythm of a poem, is expressed in the film through recurring images and symbols. slawomir idziak’s cinematography is captivating. the concept of “reflection” is translated visually trough the use of mirrors, haunting patterns of light and shadow, compositions collaged together from multiple layers of gossamer images, and the distorting effects of a lens or magnifying glass.

time sequences involve flash forwards – another hint that chance’s random twists and turns might be predetermined? repeating motifs occur throughout the film – bits of string twisted around a finger, the earthy comfort of wood, recurring colors, art and music. zbigniew preisner’s musical score is attributed to van den budenmayer, a fictitious eighteenth-century composer who’s supposed to have lived in holland some two hundred years ago and who is credited with all the music in kie?lowski’s films. here his score is divine – pure and tender, mysterious, nostalgic.

there is a hauntingly beautiful scene in “double vie” where a puppeteer’s masterful hands gently sculpt a story, much like a director, much like god.

although there is a love story in the film, it’s certainly not its focus. it’s a component of veronique’s life but it gives her clues about herself, rather than define her. it’s not hollywood’s all-consuming passion that leaves no room for an alternative ending. it’s more of an exploration in the much bigger theme of perpetual yearning – the need for something that’s familiar yet out of reach, something that’s real but also ethereal.

all these lovely coincidences and overlaps, parallel worlds and symmetrical destinies, mysterious longings and nostalgia reminded me of wislawa szymborska’s poetry. here is “love at first sight.”

Love at First Sight by Wislawa Szymborska

They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways —
perhaps they’ve passed each other a million times?

I want to ask them
if they don’t remember —
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number” caught in the receiver?
but I know the answer.
No, they don’t remember
They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thicket?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream,
grown hazy by morning.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

(Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)

la double vie de veronique by krzysztof kie?lowski