Precious Bodily Fluids

The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1991)

Called by Joe Kickasola, “Kieslowski’s great formal experiment,” this one features consistent shots of abstraction both at the levels of both form and content. The tilted and upside-down shots formally renew the spectator’s perspective, along with rich and ever-shifting color schemes. Parallel shots (from Weronika, then later from Veronique) of older women walking with difficulty at a distance (to be echoed later by Julie in Blue) take mise-en-scene and characters and suggest a kind of phenomenological scopophilia: reveling in a sight, but not only for itself. This is a Terrence-Malickian seeing-the-glory in the most mundane sights and images. Kickasola further suggests in the early shot of the statue being trucked out of the Polish town that Kieslowski is setting politics aside, a noteworthy argument considering the director’s history of political filmmaking and documentary. Politics exists in the background of The Double Life of Veronique, not so much in order to provide a background but precisely to relegate politics behind the foregrounded art. Politics is not the canvass here that it is in Children of Men, as Zizek rightfully observes.

Weronikia/Veronique is alternately reflected (read: doubled) and divided (read: fractured). Images of churches appear at least three times, always warped through some kind of medium (a rubber ball, a train window, eyeglasses). Suggestions of the divine abound, but this is a distinctly Kieslowskian (read: uncertain, agnostic) god, a kind of divine menace, a cosmic sadist who may or may not have a hand in our world. When he does, this god seems to be as playful as Weronika/Veronique. Sometimes her playfulness is sadistic, as when she volunteers to perjure against an innocent man, with no gain to herself.

Weronika’s voice trumps those of the others, her love of rain sets her apart. Kieslowski loves the natural elements: Weronika sings in the rain at the beginning, and the film’s last shot is Veronique’s hand against a tree. This is Kieslowski’s acknowledged debt to Tarkovsky (see: Solaris, Stalker, etc.).

Death and sex have a strong connection, but neither is reducible to the other. (Freud is not welcome here.) The film is bookended by love scenes and sandwiches another. The first and third are spontaneous, the first a moment of ecstasy and the third in the immediate wake of overwhelming grief and loss. Fittingly, the second follows Weronika’s death and is interrupted by Veronique’s palpable sensation that she is finally alone. Weronika’s/Veronique’s bodies are shot accordingly, with the three lovers rendered mere mise-en-scene in each case. Each time, her own doubled image is visible to her, as if she makes love to herself, or makes love to make up for the loss of her other.

Struck especially this time by the first marionette scene. Veronique is a child within an audience of children, affected by the death of the first puppet and again by her resurrection. The puppet reappears toward the film’s finale, this time doubly-affecting Veronique, who hears the puppeteer (read: ambivalent deity) explain that he keeps a spare for each puppet, just in case. “They get damaged a lot,” he says. Is she so expendable, so replaceable?

Two possible scenes of slow-motion: Weronika bounces the ball, which hits the ceiling and releases dust. Weronika tilts her face up, closes her eyes, and lets the dust rain down upon her, reminiscent of the earlier singing scene. Later, Veronique’s teabag slowly swirls in her transparent mug, submerged in translucent tea.

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This entry was published on May 14, 2014 at 2:43 pm. It’s filed under 1990s Cinema, French Film, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Photoessays, Polish Film and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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