Criterion | 1991 | 98 mins. | R

An international breakthrough for Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1991’s The Double Life of Veronique is one of those films that gives the viewer bits and pieces of the story, but then leaves it up to them to fill in the blanks. We are given only small glimpse of lives—in this case, doppelgangers who see each other only briefly but whose existences are intuited by the other during their entire lives; though not a traditional setup for a story, The Double Life of Veronique quickly grabs hold of its audience, eager to find out something about these mysterious characters.

The Double Life of VeroniqueThe Double Life of Veronique tells the stories of two young women, Weronika and Veronique, both played by French actress Irene Jacob. Both romantics at heart, they share a love of music. Weronika has cast aside her boyfriend Antek (Jerzy Gudejko), in order to follow her musical passion to Krakow. There, she visits her aunt (Halina Gryglaszewska), though they don’t really understand each other. She is also discovered by a musical impresario and given the opportunity to take part in a major operatic event. Even though she knows something is physically wrong with her, the opportunity to sing is too big a chance to pass up. She gives her life for music…

From there, the story switches to France and the life of Veronique. A schoolteacher, she feels like something is wrong, like something has just vanished. Attending a marionette performance with her students, she sees the puppeteer (Philippe Volter) in a mirror at the side, and he sees her. Though saddened for reasons she doesn’t understand, Veronique feels an immediate connection to the puppeteer named Alexandre. They pursue each other for quite awhile before admitting their love for one another. Later, she tells him she has felt like she’s been in two places at once all her life. Haven’t we all felt like that at some point in our lives?

Alexandre makes two marionettes that look like her and proceeds to tell her story. Sort of. Most of have been trained to expect the whole story by the Hollywood movie machine but Kieslowski doesn’t really want to explore why Veronique or Weronika are the way they are. Instead, he just wants us to acknowledge we know how they feel and leave it at that. While this approach may be frustrating for some viewers, there’s little denying that the soft handed approach is designed to get viewers thinking.

The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1, encoded at 1080p using the AVC codec. It’s an 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 DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound mix shows impressive spread across the soundstage, and dialogue is expertly recorded and presented. No aural artifacts spoil the sound presentation. The concert sequence and the other musical moments in the movie are particularly noteworthy.

We get the following special features:

Commentary – an audio commentary with Annette Insdorf, author of Double Life, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski. The commentary was recorded in 2006, and was included in Criterion’s SDVD release of The Double Life of Veronique.

Short Films

The Musicians (1958). Directed by Kazimierz Karabasz, a Polish documentary filmmaker in the late 1050s, who taught director Kieslowski at The Lodz Film School in the 1960s. In Polish, with optional English subtitles. (11 min, 1080i).

Factory (1970). Director Kieslowski shot this short film shortly after he graduated from The Lodz Film School in 1970. This was also one of the director’s first professional films. The story of the film revolves around a group of disillusioned workers in a steel factory. In Polish, with optional English subtitles. (19 min, 1080i).

Hospital (1976). One of the last documentary films director Kieslowski made for WFD before he focused on fiction films. The film follows a group of  doctors as they struggle to perform their duties. In Polish, with optional English subtitles. (22 min, 1080i).

Railway Station (1980). A unique look at a busy railway station where people are observed by a big camera. In Polish, with optional English subtitles. (14 min, 1080i).

Kieslowski-Dialogue – a long and very informative featurette in which the director discusses his films, the conflicts they address, their characters, what separates and unites people, politics, religion, etc. Kieslowski also discusses the two heroines in The Double Life of Veronique, the type of atmosphere he wanted to create in the film, the importance of music in it, etc. In Polish and French, with optional English subtitles. (53 min).

1966-1988: Kieslowski, Polish Filmmaker – a summation of Kieslowski’s career as a filmmaker. Produced by MK2. In French, with optional English subtitles. (31 min, 1080i).

Slawomir Idziak – in this interview, conducted in London in 2006, the famous Polish cinematographer recalls his professional relationship with Kieslowski, as well as the socio-political climate in Poland before and after The Double Life of Veronique was completed. In Polish, with optional English subtitles. (25 min, 1080i).

Zbigniew Preisner – in this interview, conducted in Krakow, Poland, in 2006, the acclaimed composer recalls his first encounter with Kieslowski and discusses their work together. In Polish, with optional English subtitles. (22 min, 1080i).

Irene Jacob – The actress recalls how she met Kieslowski and her work on The Double Life of Veronique. In French, with optional English subtitles. (17 min, 1080i).

U.S. Ending– an alternate ending, which Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax, requested for the U.S. release of The Double Life of Veronique. (6 min, 1080i).

Booklet – 46-page illustrated booklet containing Jonathan Romney’s essay “Through the Looking Glass”, and selections excerpted from the 1993 Faber & Faber book Kieslowski on Kieslowski.

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