Thursday, 7 January 2010

November 23rd, 1966 was the most important day of their lives.

No 414 - La double vie de Véronique (The Double Life of Veronique)
Director - Krzysztof Kieslowski

Another film which I knew nothing about, I didn't even realise, until near the end, that the second language in this film is Polish. But that is all the better because to know too much about this film ruins the beauty.
The film begins by cutting between two identical children, one in Poland and one in France - we then cut back to Poland and are introduced to Weronika, the first protagonist of the film, played by the beautiful and delightful Irene Jacob. What I love is that in one simple scene, we are given all the information about her we could possibly need. As her choir practise is called short because of the weather we see her finish her Soprano solo with a look of joy on her face, drenched in the torrential rain.
Weronika is full of life, and full of love. She is also very cheeky, but in a nice way... we see her run from the rain, bump into her lover and lead him straight to her room.

The film of Weronika's life doesn't have much of a story, it begins by following her around and only develops a plot when she is offered the chance to audition for a huge concert, and for someone who may be a massively famous composer, but I thought he was Christopher from Eggheads. Now, I don't want it to feel like I'm giving massive spoilers away... after all, there is a clue in the title - but the film really gets interesting when Weronika is walking home from her audition and she stumbles upon a Coach trip including Veronique (also, played by Jacob), her confusion over the moment is beautifully over looked and then she continues her life.

What I like about Weronika's story is that it has this charm and this innocence which is a delight to watch. It feels a lot like Amelie and indeed Weronika herself feels a lot like Tatou's Amelie. They both combine the wide innocence with a sense of mischief and they both have little quirks which are seen throughout the film. Weronika's adorable optimism is highlighted even more because whereas Amelie lives in a prettified, fantasy Paris, Weronika lives in Krakow during the fall of Communism. We see riots, we see protests, we see police barricades and yet throughout it all we are transfixed by Weronika who sees the beauty and the humour in the situation, be it singing a soprano part to a male voice choir, or an elderly flasher walking past, Weronika's life will make you smile.

Weronika's story ends with her performance for Chris from Eggheads, at a full theatre she performs the most important solo of her life.
At this point I do want to discuss the music in the film, because there is some truly beautiful music used throughout Weronika's story, focusing on amazing choral pieces due to Weronika's role as a soprano. Her grand show piece is particularly beautiful - Concerto En Mi Mineur by Preisner. I have never heard of this song, nor indeed of Preisner, showing that either he is quite elusive and underground. Or that I am an uncultured slob.
(actually... I found out that Preisner is a film score composer and he invented a fake 18th century composer in order to write classical music and accredit to him within films... so now I don't feel too bad).

With Weronika's story finished in this film, we cross over to France and meet Veronique. Both characters are introduced to us whilst having sex (or just before having sex) and then we follow her through her life.
This is where the film gets a bit strange because there appear to be psychic nods between Veronique and Weronika. For example, Veronique has just discovered the work of Van Den Budenmayer (Preisner's fictional composer) and is teaching her class of children to play an orchestral version of Concerto En Mi Mineur.

Despite Veronique being a far more serious and hard nosed character than the more fun loving Weronika, the film is far more whimsical and fairytale. Veronique becomes obsessed with a puppeteer who performs at the school she teaches at. The puppeteer becomes equally obsessed and begins to drop little hints and clues. Veronique turns detective and finds out more about the puppeteer.
He is a story teller and he is waiting for her at a French Cafe.

Finally the two meet and fall in love (which is never really in doubt) and the film ends. None of the story is a surprise but it is a delightful little tale.

The thing is it never touches on the mystery behind the film, despite there being several opportunities where it becomes the topic of conversation.
  • Weronika spots Veronique in the coach group travelling round Krakow
  • A member of the audience at Weronika's concert sees Veronique at a train station.
  • Veronique develops her photos of Krakow and sees the picture of Weronika in Krakow

However, the important thing is that none of the film's cast are any wiser than the viewer. So we don't get a divine moment of explanation, we only get moments of confusion with the characters, seeing something they don't understand.

The only exception to this is the puppeteer who begins to tell a story with two identical puppets of Veronique.

November 23rd, 1966 was the most important day of their lives. That day, at three in the morning, they were both born in two different cities, on two different continents. They both had dark hair and brownish-green eyes. When they were both two years old and already knew how to walk, one of them burnt her hand on a stove. A few days later, the other reached out to touch the stove but pulled away just in time and yet, she could not have known she was just about to burn herself.

If the story reflects the film, they couldn't be identical twins. Instead the film plays with duality and identity. But is wise enough never to give a definitive answer.

A beautiful film which manages to tell a wonderfully elegant and simple story (or pair of stories) in a complex and metaphysical framework.

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