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31 May, 2006

Review: The Double Life Of Véronique (1991)

Two identical women, Weronika and Véronique, lead entirely separate lives in Poland and France.

It's lazy to criticise the Hollywood stereotype, but there are only so many ways one could imagine the US focus group-led studio system developing that concept, and none of them would match the direction taken by Krzysztof Kieślowski.

Typically for a Kieślowski film, 'La Double Vie de Véronique' is strongly character-led and internalised (yet visually intricate and precise – every teabag swirls beautifully). Though there is a clear plot, that's not what the film is 'about'. The narrative is secondary to emotional reaction to events which, taken alone, might seem slightly trivial. Kieślowski doesn't spoon-feed the audience, who need to interpret the characters' motivations and inner emotions for themselves.
This seems to have eluded some reviewers at Amazon, who rated it 'very disappointing' and even 'rubbish', but I strongly feel that reflects the reviewers' mistaken preconceptions and inability to engage with the characters, not a genuine failing of the script, direction or acting.

Far from it. As with Juliette Binoche in 'Three Colours: Blue', it doesn't hurt that I find Irène Jacob physically attractive, but the film heavily depends on her understated performance as the two lead characters, for which she deservedly won the 1991 'Best Actress' award at Cannes.
Actually, much of my earlier review of '... Blue' applies to this film too, especially the first two paragraphs and including the part about not entirely understanding it. The wonderful thing is that that doesn't matter – I'll understand more next time I watch it, which I certainly will. I've read 'La Double Vie de Véronique' described (fairly) as 'transcendent or somnolent, depending on one's orientation'. Clearly I'm in the former group.

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