The Double Life of Veronique – The Criterion Collection #359 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
February 7, 2011 by Dennis Amith
Vibrant, colorful, symbiotic and ambiguous, “The Double Life of Veronique” is a wonderful arthouse film that continues to resonate strongly 20-years later and a highlight in the career of Polish director and screenwriter Krzysztof Kieslowski’s cinema oeuvre. Highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 1991 Sideral Productions S.A. 2010 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The Double Life of Veronique – The Criterion Collection #359
YEAR OF FILM: 1991
DURATION: 97 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:66:1 Aspect Ratio), Color, In Polish and French with English Subtitles
COMPANY: Miramax/Image Entertainment, mk2/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: February 1, 2011
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Produced by Leonardo de La Fuente
Executive Producer: Ryszard Chutkowski, Bernard-P. Guiremand
Music b Zbigniew Preisner
Cinematography by Slawomir Idziak
Edited by Jacques Witta
Casting by Margot Capelier, Caroline Castelain
Production Design by Patrice Mercier
Costume Design by Laurence Brignon, Claudia Fellous, Ezbieta Radke
Irene Jacob as Weronika/Veronique
Halina Gryglaszewska as La Tante
Jerzy Gudejko as Antek
Philippe Volter as Alexandre Fabbri
Sandrine Dumas as Catherine
Lorraine Evanoff as Claude
Guillaume de Tonquedec as Serge
Gilles Gaston-Dreyfus as Jean-Pierre
Wladyslaw Kowalski as Le pere de Weronika
Claude Duneton as Le pere de Veronique
Krzysztof Kieślowski’s international breakthrough remains one of his most beloved films, a ravishing, mysterious rumination on identity, love, and human intuition. Irène Jacob is incandescent as both Weronika, a Polish choir soprano, and her double, Véronique, a French music teacher. Though unknown to each other, the two women share an enigmatic, emotional bond, which Kieślowski details in gorgeous reflections, colors, and movements. Aided by Slawomir Idziak’s shimmering cinematography and Zbigniew Preisner’s haunting, operatic score, Kieślowski creates one of cinema’s most purely metaphysical works. The Double Life of Véronique is an unforgettable symphony of feeling.
Vibrant, colorful, symbiotic and ambiguous, “The Double Life of Veronique” is a wonderful arthouse film that continues to resonate strongly 20-years later and a highlight in the career of Polish director and screenwriter Krzysztof Kieślowski’s cinema oeuvre.
“The Double Life of Veronique” is a 1991 French and Polish film and a pre-cursor to Kieslowski’s color trilogy (“Three Colors: Blue, Red and White) and known for the TV mini-series “The Decalogue” which captured audiences for its artistic style, considering it was a TV mini-series, preceded by three more Kieslowski films that received rave reviews in 1988, “A Short Film About Love”, “A Shot Film About Killing” and in 1981 for “Blind Chance”.
The film won “Best Actress”, “FIPRESCI Prize” and “Prize of the Ecumenical Jury” at the Cannes International Film Festival and was also nominated for a Golden Palm Award. Also winning an award for “Best Music” by the Los Angeles Film Critics” and “Best Foreign Language Film” by the National Society of Film Critics Awards.
While the film was praised for its symbolic and artistic quality, for the US release, Harvey Weinstein of Miramax requested an alternate ending and thus the US version of the film had an extra four scenes at the end.
But what “The Double Life of Veronique” would feature is a concept of doppelgangers, a fantasy element that is not explained but it is part of the film. But what is amazing about the film is its cinematography as it uses color and camera filters to create an ethereal atmosphere where greens, yellows, oranges, reds and blacks are featured strongly throughout the film. A style which cinematographer Slawomir Idziak would experiment on “The Decalogue” and would become used in this film and used heavily in Kieslowski’s “Color” trilogy.
“The Double Life of Veronique” revolves around two women. Weronika of Poland and Veronique from Paris (both played by Irene Jacob, “Red”, “Othello”, “US Marshals”. Two women who are not related but share many traits and yet have a feeling that part of them exists somewhere else.
Weronika is a wonderful opera singer with a heart problem, Veronique had a similar goal but has abandoned it and teaches music to children. One day, Veronique was taking a vacation and the tour had stopped in Poland. Weronika saw Veronique going to the bus and it shocked her that someone looked exactly like her. But Veronique never sees her (but as she was taking pictures, she did snap a picture of Weronika).
The first half of the film explores Weronika’s life. Weronika lives in Poland and loves singing opera. We watch her as she lives with her father and he likes to paint. We watch as she sacrifices everything for her passion of singing opera. Weronika loves life, loves singing but knowing that her heart is not strong.
The second half of the film explores Veronique’s life in France and we see how she has some sort of emotional connection to someone (Weronika) but doesn’t know why. Similar to Weronika, she also pursued the same goal but abandons it. Like Weronika, she has a bad heart. Meanwhile, she starts to receive mysterious packages by a man who is fascinated with her. She also is fascinated with a marionette maker and puppeteer named Alexandre Fabbri (played by Philippe Volter).
“The Double Life of Veronique” showcases two women who look alike, share similar qualities and have this undeniable connection in which they are unable to explain.
“The Double Life of Veronique” is presented in 1:66:1 and looks magnificent on Blu-ray. Detail is much more evident as you can see the cracks of the walls to the skin bumps on Irene Jacob’s naked skin. The colors also pop with no sight of banding. Colors are vibrant, blacks are nice and deep. As mentioned earlier, the color filters and what was accomplished by cinematographer Slawomir Idziak is quite amazing. The filters create an ethereal dreamlike look for the film and if you thought the film looked great on DVD, on Blu-ray, “The Double Life of Veronique” looks spectacular.
On 4:3 televisions, the images will appear letterboxed. On standard and widescreen televisions, black bars may also be visible on the left and right to maintain the proper screen format.
According to the Criterion Collection, the HD transfer was created using a 35mm negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Double Life of Veronique” is presented in stereo. Dialogue and music can be heard clearly! The score by Zbigniew Preisner is wonderful and comes alive through the lossless stereo track but if anything captured me was hearing the operatic voice (not sure if that was truly Irene Jacob’s voice but it was divine!).
According to the Criterion Collection, the stereo soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35-mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools D. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated audio workstation.
Subtitles are in English SDH.
“The Double Life of Veronique – The Criterion Collection #359” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:
- Audio commentary – # Audio commentary by Annette Insdorf, author of Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieślowski. A very insightful and informative audio commentary, pleasant to listen to and well-done!
- U.S. Ending – (5:16) The U.S. Ending for “The Double Life of Veronique”.
- The Musicians – (1958, 10:35), a short film by Kieślowski’s teacher Kazimierz Karabasz which inspired Kieślowski.
- Three short documentary films by Kieślowski: Factory (1970, 18:07), Hospital (1976, 21:20) and Railway Station (1980, 13:15).
- Kieślowski’s Dialogue – (52:22) A 1991 documentary featuring a candid interview with Kieślowski and rare behind-the-scenes footage from the set of “The Double Life of Véronique”.
- 1966-1988: Kieślowski, Polish Filmmaker -(30:38) A 2005 documentary directed by Luc Lagier tracing the filmmaker’s work in Poland, from his days as a student through “The Double Life of Véronique”.
- Slawomir Idziak – (24:18) A 2006 interview with cinematographer Slawomir Idziak.
- Zbigniew Preisner – (21:16) 2006 interview with Zbigniew Preisner is a composer who had worked with Kieślowski since the 1985 film “No End”.
- Irene Jacob – (16:45) A 2005 interview with actress Irène Jacob.
Included is a 46-page booklet featuring “Through the Looking Glass” by Jonathan Romney and “Pure Emotions: The Double Life of Veronique from Kieślowski on Kieślowski”. (Note: “The Forced Choice of Freedom” by Slavoj Zizek and “Kieslowski’s Muse” by Peter Cowie which were in the 2006 DVD release booklet are not included in the Blu-ray release booklet).
“The Double Life of Veronique” is quite an intriguing film. Many critics and viewers have various interpretations of the film… From the two women symbolizing their countries, the women symbolizing the life of Kieślowski and others feeling it deals with the doppelganger mythology and more.
There is an ambiguity that Kieślowski knew that people who watched the film, would experience and interpret it differently. And it’s what he wanted to do as a filmmaker. In fact, knowing that this film would be showing in various theaters, his goal was to slightly change the film for each theater, “The Double Life of Veronique” would be a different experience for a viewer, with some scenes running shorter or longer, ending would be happy or sad but in the end, they ran out of time and were only able to create two versions, with the second version being the US release with a few scenes added to the request made by Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein.
There is no doubt that this is one of those films that arthouse fans love for its cinematic creativity. The cinematography by Slawomir Idziak is magnificent. The use of the filters in Kieślowski’s words, “to create a beautiful world, more than it is”. But for others, the film may be too ambiguous for their tastes. But it is what made Kieślowski’s work so unique and untethered. Although he worked in co-productions, his films were his own. He made the call, he made the cuts and the integrity of the film of what he wanted remained intact.
But there are scenes that are symbolic, there are scenes which one must be focused on too pickup the various clues that Kieślowski leaves with the viewers. From Weronika pulling on a shoestring which resembles an EKG monitor and seeing the string snap off. There is a scene in Veronique’s storyline in which her small crystal ball shows an image of buildings which were the buildings that Weronika’s father was drawing, and a small ball that Weronika also carries. There is a scene where Weronika looks at her photo after making love and seeing the opposite with Veronique.
The film showcases this mysterious connection but it doesn’t focus on it. While many Hollywood films on the mystical are treated with storylines answering questions of “why is it possible?”, Kieślowski’s film answers back with a “why should I answer that?”.
In many ways, the film can be seen like poetry, like a painting. The film relies on ambiance and mood for narrative, in fact Weronika/Veronique’s dialogue is quite minimalistic, as the film is ethereal and allows the viewer to come up with their own answers to what the film may be about.
I’ve met people who felt that Weronika succumbs to the doppelganger effect (a myth which is about a person who comes across their exact self, their doppelganger, the result is that they will die). But there are those who go deeper into the storyline and feel that “The Double Life of Veronique” examines humanity and possibly may symbolize countries. If both countries have a connection and are very much alike, do they have free will or is someone higher pulling their strings. Others have felt there was a religious connection (although God or religion is not mentioned in the film), I have read those who felt there was a Christian-link to the film when it comes to spirituality.
Some may feel there is a symbolism with a political nature due to Kieslowski’s past films, while others feel the film is about something deeper. Nevertheless, this is where the efficacy of the film works, with the fact that people have their own interpretation of what the film is about and what they imagine the film to be.
This was Kieslowski’s style, to never discuss what he was trying to accomplish with the film, to let the viewers have their say on how a film meant to them.
For me, I have watched this film several times and each time, I manage to pick up on things that I didn’t see previously. In fact, this is a film that does require multiple viewings, not for the sake of understanding the story but as I mentioned before, it’s like a painting. It has simplicity, but it can also be interpreted as complex. Kieślowski is the creator, does his past and what he had created in his past films or documentary work have something to say about his work of art? What are the symbolic meanings of the objects of the film? These questions is what makes the film so intriguing that you want to watch it again.
As for the acting, the acting was wonderful. Irene Jacob did a fantastic job in playing the role of two women. She is able to embody the emotions felt by both women, from happiness, sadness and it looks natural and believable. And I will say that if it that is Jacob’s voice during those operatic scenes, my respect for her as a multi-talented actress has increased and found her performance to be ingratiating.
As for the Blu-ray release of “The Double Life of Veronique”, let me first say that the 2006 DVD release from The Criterion Collection was magnificent. And with the 2010 Blu-ray release in Europe ala Artificial Eye, there was no doubt in my mind that this title would receive a Blu-ray release courtesy of Criterion. The 2011 Blu-ray looks absolutely beautiful in HD and of course, with the ability to go to index for the commentary quite easily is a plus. But it is important for me to say that the original 2006 DVD release does have more content (in the booklet) and of course, the DVD release had an awesome package.
So, the big question for those who own the previous 2006 DVD release is if it’s worth owning on Blu-ray. The answer is yes if you want the improved picture quality and lossless stereo track. But if you don’t have a 1080p HD TV or a proper home theater setup for lossless audio, then it’s a moot point, there is no need to upgrade. Otherwise, if you do have the proper home theater setup, then yes because the film looks absolutely vibrant on Blu-ray, The details of the film are much more evident, every crack on the walls can be seen, even the skin bumps on actress Irene Jacob can be seen very clearly.
Overall, “The Double Life of Veronique” is a magnificent film from director Krzysztof Kieślowski and the Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection is wonderful. I will say that the original 2006 DVD had a wonderful package presentation and the addition of more content in the booklet made it a perfect release and if you own that DVD release, I highly recommend on keeping it. But for those who don’t own the film or those wanting to upgrade to Blu-ray, especially for those who are used to watching arthouse films, especially Kieślowski films, will find “The Double Life of Veronique” to be a release worth owning especially as it is a film that requires multiple viewing.
“The Double Life of Veronique” is a beautiful film!
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