There’s a scene in ‘Three Colours: Blue’, where Juliette Binoche’s face reflects upside down on a spoon. Even by today’s standards, it’d be considered a rather peculiar frame. And quite obviously, it stirred up many conversations among cinephiles, around possible symbolism and deeper connotations. However, when asked about it, Krzysztof Kieslowski, the director, quite bluntly stated that ‘Her face reflected upside down on the spoon because spoons reflect images upside down.’
A Bottle Of Milk Is A Bottle Of Milk
Kieslowski was a fascinating person and, by all accounts, an auteur and a generational talent. Known to be a straightforward man, many of his close confidants saw him as a philosopher. His body of work was universally revered and often confronted political, ethical and moral dilemmas. He was also known to hold rather progressive views around things he cared about most as an artist, something that proved to be a major hurdle for him later in his career. But he did not budge, thanks to his strong moral convictions.
He loved taking pictures of people. Because of his exploits as a documentarian, much of his early work revolved around socio-realism, a thread that weaved through his entire oeuvre in one way or another. However, his artistic creed took centre stage when he started exploring philosophical and existential conflicts. Much like Tarkovsky or Bresson, his films often verged on the poetic without ever feeling histrionic or outside the boundaries of reality. But unlike his peers, his style and thematic elements dramatically evolved to tell more potent stories.
Through ‘phenomenological’ plots, he started asking the proverbial question, ‘How should one live?’. He didn’t have a ‘right’ answer, but then again, he wasn’t looking for one either. As far as I can tell, he wasn’t confused. He just didn’t care. But that didn’t stop him from being cryptic about it all. When asked in an interview about his first foreign venture, ‘The Double Life Of Veronique’, he allegedly said that there are no metaphors in the film. Because to him, ‘A bottle of milk is a bottle of milk’. It doesn’t matter how Kubrick or The Coen Brothers use it to define the personas of their characters. That being said, it’d be safe to assume that there are at least two dozen allegories and parables in the runtime of ‘The Double Life of Veronique’. I say so because Kieslowski allegedly developed nearly 20 versions of the film, one for every screen it was supposed to be played on in France.
To Analyze Beauty, Is To Destroy It
The Double Life of Veronique is a puzzle, but not by mistake. It simply refuses to be pigeonholed into a genre, motif, or even plot. More on that later. On the surface, it is undeniably rich and decadent. Every frame, every reflection, and every note of its melody is a lush, visceral experience that demands to be savoured. By the end of it, I was left with a sensory rush that lingered on for weeks. It’s been a couple of months now. I’ve seen it a dozen times, and yet I cannot get enough of it. It’s the sort of cinema where you can’t look away, and you really can’t in this case. The colour-grading, as bizarre as it is, has a purpose, and it instantly lures you in. The film is draped in hues of red and green, and since these two colours are complementary, they symbolically mirror the plot. The score by Zbigniew Preisner, much like the cinematography, doesn’t explicitly stand for anything by itself. But its melancholic harmonies elevate the film far beyond your run-of-the-mill score can. The immersion that Kieslowski strived for and the tender spirit of the film are masterfully captured in its haunting music. The motifs of its signature melody work like magic with Irene Jacob’s equally beautiful performance. Speaking of which, it is one thing to be a gifted actor, but what Irene Jacob brings to this film is a level of personal truth, the likes of which I rarely come across. She is jaw-droppingly picturesque in every frame and effortlessly transitions between a spectrum of human emotions. From feeling the afternoon rain on her face to serenading an audience with ‘Lacrimosa‘, her innocence breathes so much life into Kieslowski’s vision.
The film tries to say a lot with very little, and it successfully does so for the most part. But it’s easy to overread and overanalyse it. There are unanswered questions in the film, but it is important to resist the temptation to figure out every last detail. Its allure lies in the fact that it’s tangled, like that recurring dream that you wish you could jump in the middle of. It seems almost as if Kieslowski invites us to look closer and, in doing so, leaves us with a far bigger takeaway. Sometimes, you don’t need to know. The hypnosis only works if you don’t know the secrets. So, should we just let it wash all over us?
Every Mirror Is But A Window
If you do decide to unravel it, you’re in for a treat. There are several elements in the film that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. From the central idea to the awe-inspiring ending to the characters themselves, everything is enigmatic. So, for this section of the essay, please be warned that there are a few ‘Spoilers Ahead’.
Depending on who you ask, ‘The Double Life of Veronique’ is about either this mysterious relationship between two women in their 20s or about how one woman confronts a spontaneous sense of loss. It depends on how you interpret the logic of ‘The Double’. I personally think that the film depicts W’s life almost as a trial run for V’s. Because even the initials of their names, V and W, kind of work that way if you use a mirror. I may be reading too much into it. However, the motif of ‘The Double’ constantly appears in the film. The recurring names, characters, numbers, and even the dolls that the puppeteer makes. The latter is of particular significance because the puppeteer, I think, represents Kieslowski himself, pulling all the strings, both literally and figuratively.
Kieslowski was fascinated by the metaphysical connections we share with people we may not even know. He further explored these ideas in his filmography, but there’s a sort of aching novelty to how it was captured here. That palpable melancholy is reinforced in what has to be one of the greatest concluding scenes in the history of cinema.
In the original cut, the film ends with Veronique pulling into her father’s house. She gently puts her hand on a tree, feeling its distinct texture as if she’s consoling it. Inside, her father shapes the wood from perhaps the same tree with his tools. We get one final shot of her hand as the score hits a crescendo. And then the credits roll. Many think the scene is a nod to the riddle of the ‘Ship of Theseus’. If she touches the tree and then that tree is turned into a chair, did she touch the chair? This singular idea can be juxtaposed with the central plot or can be seen as the whole film in a microcosm.
Still Waters Run Deep
Amidst a barrage of movies with fast cuts, non-linear narratives, and overwritten plots, it’s easy to forget what good cinema is. Thankfully, ‘The Double Life of Veronique’ reignited my passion for storytelling and rekindled my love for slow-burn cinema. Rewatching it over and over again felt almost pious because this style of filmmaking is not just about what’s on the screen; it’s about what it stirs within us.
Roger Ebert, the late critic, often proposed a scenario for those who find it difficult to choose their favourite film. Just imagine being cast away on an island for eternity, and you can pack, among other essentials, only one film to watch over and over again. My answer to that question has changed over time, from ‘Citizen Kane’ to ‘Le Samourai’ to ‘Stalker’, but now it rests with ‘The Double Life of Veronique.’ Its ethereal beauty is indescribable in words and evocable only as art and only as cinema.
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