The Double Life of Veronique (Blu-ray)
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 1080p AVC codec Running Time: 97 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo Polish/French
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: February 1, 2011
Review Date: February 6, 2011
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique is one of those films that doesn’t take you on a journey but rather offers bits and pieces of lives, in this case the lives of doppelgangers whose physical presences happen to crisscross only once but whose existences are intuited by the other during their entire lives. The film weaves a very unique spell on the viewer, and even with a lack of traditional dramatic material at hand, it effectively grabs and holds us forcing us to plumb the film’s depths to uncover any scraps of information the director/co-writer might have buried below the film’s surface. It’s not the richest dramatic film you’ll ever see, but its unique mixture of heaviness and lightness give it a patina all its own and one well worth exploring.
Identical in looks and temperament, Polish Weronika and French Veronique (both played by Irène Jacob) share an interest in music and are both romantics at heart. Weronika’s boy friend Antek (Jerzy Gudejko) has been put aside when her love of music and singing take her to Krakow to win a scholarship and study voice. Veronique is visiting a relative in Krakow when she inadvertently snaps a picture of a crowd of protesting marchers where Weronika just happens to be though she doesn’t look at her picture proof sheets immediately and has no idea what they contain. After Weronika drops dead of a heart attack during a recital, Veronique realizes something in her life has changed, but she has no idea what. This feeling of unease happens at the time that she begins receiving a series of packages from a puppeteer (Philippe Volter) who had entertained at the school where she teaches and had become smitten with her. She’s intrigued and her romantic nature is stirred, but things just don’t seem quite right.
The most frustrating aspects of this unusual film concern the tattiness of its character construction. We want to know so much more about Weronika and Antek, and each of the girls’ fathers (Wladyslaw Kowalski, Claude Duneton) appear to offer so much more of interest than we’re allowed to see or know. Puppeteer and children’s book writer Alexandre Fabbri is also a fascinating character who desserves much more fleshing out than he receives in the Krzysztof Kieslowski-Krzysztof Piesiewicz screenplay. Director Kieslowski stages some magical moments, however. That puppet performance is mesmerizing (it’s fascinating watching the children spellbound by these marionettes), and by having Veronique watch the puppeteer’s reflection as he manipulates his creations, she (and we) are drawn into the spell he’s casting. The concert sequence, filmed with garish green filters and fish eye lenses exaggerating Weronika’s final minutes of life, is also a splendid example of the director’s art. The ending is enigmatic and a trifle unsatisfying (the American ending which contains additional shots offers no compensation), but the film as a whole is unquestionably an example of cinematic hypnosis.
Irène Jacob won plenty of prizes for her double-edged performance (including Best Actress at Cannes in 1991), but apart from the different languages she speaks as the two women (and her Polish was dubbed after the fact due to her accent), there’s not a lot of difference in her characterizations. She’s certainly a porcelain figurine in her delicacy and sensitivity, and she glows with a radiance that’s unmistakable. Philippe Volter makes a superb impression as the writer/puppet master manipulating more than his marionettes. Halina Gryglaszewska has an effective moment or two as Weronika’s aunt who happens on her niece’s twin and can’t believe her eyes. Jerzy Gudejko has a couple of ardent scenes as Weronika’s lover, but much more could and should have been done with him.
The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is encoded at 1080p using the AVC codec. It’s a very warm and appealing transfer with richly saturated colors and lush flesh tones which only occasionally go a bit sallow (deliberately according to the cinematographer). Apart from a few random dust specks and black levels which don’t always stay consistently low, the transfer is a very strong one with superb sharpness. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound mix has some impressive spread across the soundstage, and dialogue is certainly expertly recorded and presented. No aural artifacts spoil the sound presentation. The concert sequence and the other musical moments in the movie as the girls display their soprano voices (Elzbieta Towarnicka dubbed Jacob’s singing and humming) are particularly noteworthy.
The audio commentary is provided by Annette Insdorf, an expert on the director’s films and style, and it’s a well researched and interesting discussion not only of this film but his other works in the context of this one.
All of the bonus video features are presented in 1080i.
The U.S. ending for the film which continues with four additional shots after the original film ends is shown in a 5 ¼ minute sequence.
The disc offers four documentary shorts filmed by the director over a period of twenty-two years. They are the 1958 Musicians (10 ½ minutes), 1970’s Factory (18 ¼ minutes), 1976’s Hospital (21 ½ minutes), and 1980’s Railway Station (13 ¼ minutes). All feature the same cross-section of observational looks at people in these specific locations with Hospital¸ twenty-four hours at one facility, the best of the bunch.
Kieslowski-Dialogue is a 1991 documentary shot during the making of The Double Life of Veronique with behind-the-scenes shots of the cast and crew at work along with personal interviews with the director about his career. It runs 52 ¾ minutes.
1966-1988: Kieslowski, Polish Filmmaker is a 2005 documentary directed by Luc Lagier detailing the film career of the director in light of the social and political changes going on in Poland during the period. It runs 30 ¾ minutes.
The 2006 interview with Slawomir Idziak, the film’s cinematographer, concentrates on the particular look he wanted for the film, a look the director alternately changed and then reverted to at Cannes. This runs 24 ¼ minutes.
Film composer Zbigniew Preisner, who scored seventeen films for the director, is interviewed for 21 ¼ minutes, speaking mostly about his manner of working and the privilege of working with one of the greats which he says are no longer with us.
Actress Irene Jacob recalls how she was cast and her experiences making the film in a 16 ¾-minute interview.
The enclosed 45-page booklet contains the chapter listing, cast and crew lists, some stills from the movie, an analysis of the film by critic Jonathan Romney, and excerpts from a book about his films by the director Krzysztof Kieslowski.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4.5/5 (not an average)
In the style of other Criterion releases, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique is offbeat and fascinating cinema. Superb video and audio along with a treasure trove of bonus features make this a must have for lovers of unique foreign films. Recommended!