Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Double Life of Veronique captures a universally-shared, fleeting feeling and crystallizes it into a movie. It’s difficult, maybe impossible, to pinpoint what exactly this feeling is. It’s one of those feelings we all have a dim awareness of somewhere in the periphery of our consciousness but the moment we try to grasp at it, its meaning escapes us. It’s so instantaneous and elusive that we are apt to dismiss its presence as something illusory. The Double Life affirms the reality of this transient corner-of-the-eye feeling and enlarges upon it until it becomes the most real and all-encompassing thing we experience. The moment we attempt to translate this feeling into concrete terms, its meaning disintegrates. Kieślowski’s strategy is not to define the indefinable but to evoke a mirage of it. Via this mirage, the movie lays bare a feeling which is encrypted within all of us.
The film is bifurcated into two parts, although upon first viewing one might not be able to see the dividing line. The first “segment” follows Weronika, a nymph-like twenty-something year old who suddenly dies mid-way through a concert recital. Her death isn’t felt. We don’t become emotionally invested in her, not because we don’t have enough time to but because she’s more of a silhouette than a fully-evolved character. At about thirty minutes, this section is extremely compact and acts more as a preface for the following one. As soon as Weronika abruptly dies, a second narrative is set in motion. We see an exact replica of her, Veronique, placed into a totally separate context. Veronique is as impressionable, delicately-feeling, and youthfully wide-eyed as her doppelgänger. She talks in the same dreamy, entranced tones, as though she’s captivated by some indistinct feeling she can’t quite put their finger on.
She still has a childlike attachment to her father, and she’s easily enticed and manipulated by what lies beyond his protective paternal boundaries. She falls in love with an ominous stalker who graces her with creepy tokens of affection. Her naivete convinces her that his offputting romantic gestures are a sign of an idealized sort of love. She’s so blinded by her newfound feelings that she doesn’t interpret the stalker’s obsessive acts as symptoms of perverted urges. And eerily enough, the relationship doesn’t strike one as demented–Kieślowski manages to create such a convincing movie that at times we lapse into feeling the relationship to be warm and endearing, in a way.
The scenes have a naturally dimming, vacuuming effect on the viewer. It’s the same sort of effect you feel when you’ve been exposed to harsh light and your eyes are struggling to adjust to a much dimmer setting. It’s saturated with an ambient amber glow, as though the scenes are being filtered through a stained-glass window. The colors merge and dissolve into one another. At every separation between objects there runs a barely-perceptible nebular glow. The underlying music has the same ghostly, elegiac quality as wind moaning through a ruinous landscape. An overwhelming molten melancholic feeling saturates the environment. The resultant effect is an ominous, suspended-between-two-worlds feeling of dysphoria. It thrives within the hair-line fracture that separates Weronika and Veronique’s lives. There’s an inescapable feeling of being in two places at once.
Though its narrative structure is nontraditional, it’s not one of those movies that prides itself on structural stunt-pilotry. And it’s narrative isn’t so much circular as elliptical: it doesn’t bend back around into itself. It resolves itself out of thin air and then trails away.