"All my life I've felt like I was here and somewhere else at the same time," says Weronika in Kryzysztof Kieslowski's film, The Double Life of Veronique. 10 years ago when I first watched this film, I didn't have enough life experience to truly understand the depth of her statement.
When I first began my exploration into foreign cinema in high school, I had known of the importance of this film and of the director on films I knew well, like Amelie. Curious to delve deeper into whimsical French cinema, I watched The Double Life of Veronique expecting it to resonate with me and become one of my favorite films. Unfortunately, I was bored throughout my viewing and couldn't quite comprehend why it was so impactful when nothing seemed to happen. I found the pacing too slow, the narrative too convoluted to a point of disengagement, the characters too self-absorbed and unrelatable.
That was 15 year old me confronted by complexity too difficult to grasp at the time. Though always attuned to detail and broader concepts of psychology and philosophy, I preferred narratives and themes to be a bit more self-explanatory instead of requiring more of an active role in their deciphering from the viewer. After a decade has passed, I've now fine tuned my appreciation of film.
Having now seen many films involving the dynamic between doubles, most notably Persona, I now better understand the confusing, intuitive relationship between the two Veroniques that at first was difficult to grasp. Now, instead of finding the movie languid and uneventful, I appreciate the subtlety which I have come to realize is inherently French. Having also worked through a lot of my own emotional complications, I've become very empathetic which allows me to understand that above all, this film is about a feeling. That feeling cannot be articulated or explained, like any overpowering emotion. It's to be purely digested and internalized. It's to be felt and not intellectualized.
Veronique's anger, confusion and denial came alive in Irene Jacob's facial expressions. I now have an appreciation for this type of femininity depicted in film: she's strong, but soft. She's vulnerable, yet sure of her grace and power. She's comfortable with her sexuality and has no qualms sharing it with the men she chooses. The very nuanced character was lost on me the first time when I, perhaps, was more of a one-dimensional person. Admittedly, I do agree that not much actually happens in the narrative. However, now having had my share of relationships, I was now better able to get more out of the the ambivalent and complicated relationships between Veronique and Alexandre and between Weronika and Antek.
As the basic plot goes, Weronika is a singer who lives in Poland who has a sudden feeling that she's not alone. Guided by her intuition, she sees Veronique, a French music teacher who is her double. Weronika dies that day on stage, meanwhile Veronique experiences sadness and loss that she ascribes to feeling suddenly alone. She teaches the same piece that Weronika performed before she died, unknowingly. They shared a strong, singular connection that neither of them was fully aware of. The feeling of the film mentioned earlier could perhaps be the opposite of the elation felt when a genuine, indescribable connection happens on all levels, spiritual, mental, emotional, physical. This is the down swing of the mania experienced in limerence. This is emptiness and potential for what could have been with that person that truly understands you, because they are you. Unfortunately, the beauty of that wholesome connection is only clouded with doubt and remains unconfirmed for life.
The Double Life of Veronique is a film alive with symbols that needs a level of understanding life in untaught experiences to decipher. Living life was what changed this film for me and turned indifference into understanding. In 10 years, I wonder what a repeat viewing might change for me yet again. Perhaps next time, having better grown into my skin, I'll see the film as a metaphor for the self- as Veronique and Weronika representing a cohesion of the full self instead of representing two separate individuals.