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The Criterion Collection presents
The Double Life of Véronique (1991)

"I have a strange feeling. I feel like I'm not alone."
- Véronique (Ir?ène Jacob)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: November 27, 2006

Stars: Ir?ène Jacob, Philippe Voltier, Sandrine Dumas
Director: Krzystof Kie?lowski

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:37m:33s
Release Date: November 21, 2006
UPC: 715515020725
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

You can overdo the analogies between movies and dreams—images flying by our eyes as we're alone in the dark—but there's no denying the dreamy, ethereal quality of the work of director Krzysztof Kieślowski, especially in this movie, which may be his most paradigmatic. On some level it does feel like that faintly hazy quality is used to obscure a story that's alternately implausible and impenetrable, but take The Double Life of Véronique too literally and you've missed the whole point. It's also a movie invested in the notion of döppelgangers, both individual and cultural, as much as any picture since Vertigo, and it's one that makes imitative films like Sliding Doors look like nursery school projects.

The luminous Irène Jacob stars, and on some level the movie is a love letter to her—the camera lingers over her frequently naked body, or just pans with her as she moons over the view out her window, or simply contemplates the befuddling obstacles she encounters. She plays both Véronique, a Parisian music teacher, and Weronika, a Polish soprano—they are unknown to one another, but (obviously) could pass as identical twins, and on some level represent the director's native Poland and his adopted France. In this Jungian world of doubling, uncanny coincidences are the order of the day—Weronika, a wallflower, wins a singing competition, but the musical gods conspire against her at her inaugural concert, and her French double is soon ensnared in an alluring bit of international mystery. (Though the plot isn't the point in a movie like this, I'm still reluctant to give too much of it away.) But the thriller trappings seem like merely a necessary pretense to get at what really concerns Kieślowski—it's almost as if bad things happen to one of his characters so that another of them can receive a phone call with no one on the other end, the chasm of the mystery of existence dialing you direct.

Does that sound a little pretentious? It does to me, and if you can't give yourself over to that notion of ineffable mysteriousness, this probably isn't the movie for you. It's a pretty crude detective story by the standards of that genre, and once you start trying to hunt up the symbolic value of what Véronique finds—an empty cigar box, a piece of shoelace—it can be hard to stop. (Then again, sometimes a cigar box is just a cigar box.) It's a movie that wants to find dangerous foreboding everywhere—but once you start looking at the world that way, it doesn't mean that bad things are about to happen because you sense it. It means that you're probably more than a little paranoid, whether or not they are in fact out to get you.

But even if you find the film's mystical design opaque, it's a movie of some unbelievably pretty pictures. The oranges and greens shimmer, the reds blossom; the composition is steadily compelling, and the lyrically moving camerawork is astonishingly accomplished. Kieślowski and his entire team of artisans have pulled off a remarkable feat with this film, and it's worth letting it wash over you and trying to sort out the frequently confused spiritual elements once the lights come back up.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: If you were looking for a paragon of how good a film can look on DVD, you've found it. The level of Criterion's technical accomplishments has always been uniformly high; this may be their most ravishing disc to date, with a nuanced palette, not a scratch or bit of debris, and a consistently steady image quality. Wow.

Image Transfer Grade: A+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French and Polishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The bilingual dialogue track is well balanced with the music that's so integral to the film's storyline. The audio won't make you gasp in amazement in the same manner that the picture will, but it's still awfully fine.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Alternate Endings
9 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Annette Insdorf
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. accompanying booklet
  2. color bars
Extras Review: This set is a Kieślowski seminar on two DVDs, more or less. The first disc includes an ending that appeared only in the U.S., shot at the prompting of Miramax's Harvey Weinstein; it's only modestly different from what you'll find on the feature. Film scholar Annette Insdorf provides a commentary track that's especially illuminating on (and pardon the Marxist turn of phrase) the means of production of the film, the first that Kieślowski made in part in Poland after the collapse of Communism. She's very good, too, in providing a career overview of the director, and in giving us relevant information about his collaborators; less illuminating is her murky examination of the film's thematic elements, which she sees principally as a battle between chance and fate. Whether or not our experiences are predetermined or are an entropic sequence of events won't be resolved here, alas.

Also on the first disc are four nonfiction films (01h:03m:14s) that provide context for the director's background and influences. The first, The Musicians, was made in 1958 by Kazimierz Karabasz, a teacher of Kieślowski's, and the stylistic influence especially is acute. Next is Kieślowski's own Factory, from 1970, which is part a Maysles-like documentary look at the bosses running the Polish facility, and part a Sheeleresque valentine to the nobility of labor. Hospital, made in 1976, is a day-in-the-life piece focused on a doctor; the film is almost all tight shots of the surgeon, making it more a character study than an institutional overview. And the travelers that populated 1980's Railway Station are all breathless with anticipation as to what's going to happen next, yet with a Beckettian sense that nothing will.

Disc 2 starts with Kieślowski: Dialogue (52m:41s), a making-of piece on Double Life, with lots of clips from the feature, interview footage with the director, and a look at how he conducts himself on the set—it's a fine opportunity to get a peek at his working methods. 1966-1988: Kieślowski, Polish Filmmaker (30m:37s), made in 2006, gives a retrospective look at the director working under the constraints imposed by Communism in his native land.

Three interviews with Double Life collaborators are illuminating as well. Director of photography S?awomir Idziak, in a 2006 piece (24m:17s), discusses meeting the director while they were film students, the pressures of the state-run Polish film industry, and moving west. Composer Zbigniew Preisner (21m:15s) is also an old comrade, and speaks about Kieślowski with a shamanistic mystique. And Ir?ène Jacob (16m:44s) confines her reminiscences almost exclusively to this project, discussing meeting the director and auditioning for him, and showing us her heavily annotated copy of the screenplay.

And the set is fat with its accompanying booklet. Jonathan Romney's essay meditates on the philosophical aspects of the film, while Slavoj Žižek's is more political. Criterion utility man Peter Cowie writes about Jacob as the director's muse, though they made only two films together. And the director himself is well represented by an extended excerpt on the film from Kieślowski on Kieślowski.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Many have gone absolutely gaga about this movie, and it's not difficult to see why—its visual style is rapturous, and it looks ethereally beautiful on this DVD, for which the technical values could not be higher. I'm not sure that the film has the intellectual muscle to back it all up, but you can learn an extraordinary amount about the journey of the director, and look at the pretty pictures and make up your own mind.


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