Flippant Remarks about the Double Life of Véronique
This Kieslowski film, The Double Life of Veronique / La Double vie de Veronique / Dvojnaja zhizn Veroniki, makes the “metaphysical work” of M. Knight Shyamalan look like an expensive but domestic Orange County Lutheran church play. With Veronique, Krzysztof Kieslowski solves hundreds of problems that too many seasoned, multi-millionaire filmmakers have not even begun to recognize. What impresses me is that he solves them in one integrated, structured, coherent system instead of resorting to what we call cameo appearances or gags.
Here are some of the Kieslowski solutions to problems real or imagined:
- Since Kieslowski is from Poland, he has to kiss French ass. This is a dude who leaves the ’hood and moves out west to better housing and better looking women. He is not going to insult his benefactors with too much ethnic shit. So he literally kills off his Polish language and ‘rises’ into the heights of French.
- Since Kieslowski is from Poland, he has to show respect for his native land and people. Weronika, of Poland, is the esoteric “hero” of this story who is willing to die in Poland for the love of her art. Kieslowski is paying his sincere respect for the passionate people he left behind in Poland, literally shown in street scenes of political turmoil.
- Both Weronika and Véronique have heart problems—but only the French Véronique is shown near a hospital. When we study the work—the documentary work—of Kieslowski especially a film he did in 1976, called Szpital, he may be suggesting to us that leaving Poland for better medical care is an option to be taken seriously. It is just possible that Weronika might have lived with better medical facilities in her country. But for her, not one to be a music school teacher like Véronique, there were no mundane options.
- The problem of being sincere about the youth and beauty of a woman in the modern world is addressed. The current trend is to ignore the obvious and accept without comment that a certain extremely photogenic person has just appeared in our view. Kieslowski ignores this pretension with stunning insight and a wholeness that surrounds his camera. When Weronika wins her lead soloist position she is embraced and kissed by an enchanted elder man—Kieslowski punctuates this moment with the disapproving gaze of the woman in the black hat, Boguslawa Schubert. Annette Insdorf in her Criterion exclusive DVD commentary would certainly disagree with me—but, to me, the expression on her face also means that another young woman with poor qualifications has advanced because of her good looks seen by old men. Simultaneously, I do not disagree with Ms. Insdorf’s observations—they go to higher, metaphysical themes in the film.
- The problem of the sex scene is not as small as we consumers of pornography think it is. George Lucas (fortunately) runs away from this problem entirely. Steven Spielberg in Munich shows me just how tedious these things can be in the wrong hands. To me, Spielberg was working too hard to ‘prove’ that he could do a sex scene while Kieslowski and his great actors make this look effortless. Spielberg, again, strained to make his sex scenes—especially the last horrible one in Munich—appear to be integrated in the story. Kieslowski’s flow is coherent: his final sex scene that lilted a soprano voice in a quick gasp of Weronika through Véronique was a superb performance and vital to telling the story. Kieslowski reminds his French audience that people other than the French know a few things about the meaning of sexuality and the primal divine grace of these acts.
- Irène Jacob is a prize to any film director who can stand next to the title “artist.” This solves the problem of the film director as a dirty old man: Irène Jacob is not an embarrassment of brutal physical attraction. She’s running on all cylinders. (Kieslowski did not kiss too much French ass because Irène Jacob was born in France but formatively Swiss—literally neutral as they say.) Her appearance on film is captivating—and little does Ms. Jacob know about the depths of my compliment because I really can’t stand too many European films at my age, maturing with this African thang. But, again, Kieslowski surrounds his camera: Irène Jacob is a true intellectual powerhouse! Her mastery of languages is literally frightening. The more you look into this work the more treasures you find—these are structures that all who call themselves “artists” should build. (Note that Anna Gornostaj had to replace Ms. Jacob’s fluent Polish that she learned specifically for this film. She just could not convince a native speaker with her accent.)
- The weird scene with the flasher during Weronika’s ominous heart attack reminds people, who are not attractive women, that these women live a strange often brutal world of “genetic celebrity.” Kieslowski’s humorous but foreboding recognition of this resonates with me since I did not grow up with a sister. It took me years to understand that being considered attractive at an early age can be, in extreme cases, a death sentence for the sensitive, intelligent little girl. It can be a different kind of death of innocence and fearlessness. She can learn about betrayal at an impressionable age from the men she would least suspect. But Kieslowski is careful to tell us that Weronika and Véronique each have good fathers—and after the flasher walks away from Weronika she just smiles to herself from a safe distance. She wipes her lips with the phallic stick of balm… Another problem solved.
- The character name, “Alexandre Fabbri,” played by Philippe Volter, translates here in the rasx() context into ‘the conqueror of fabrication’—the puppet master for school children is Kieslowski’s approach to himself as a filmmaker. Expressing yourself without boring the audience with yourself is the ultimate artist problem. Unlike the excellent self-preoccupation in Fellini’s great 8½, Kieslowski’s fusion into the world of his leading woman (as women) is in marked contrast to the male dominance in the Fellini hen house. This is my bias speaking, but Kieslowski’s intimate portraits of his women with his delicate emphasis on quiet, high-resolution moments is the superior, everlasting intercourse.
- The way Alexandre brings Véronique into his life is far more sublime (at first) than the charming events in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie. They come together almost entirely by right-brain aural functions and inductive reasoning—without the use of language. Véronique would never meet Alexandre without her thinking—carefully and adeptly. When you really need to be assassin-accurate to ridicule my idealism from my artistic youth, then here, you can have this: the way these two characters come together is beyond my wildest fantasies about how the world of man and woman in this thing we call “love” with “romance.” From the beginning of the relationship, they are joined so strongly from almost nothing “real”—they live within a structure of abstraction. Ideally their bond becomes even stronger—an everlasting matter of fact—as their knowledge and presence of each other grows. Meanwhile, back in this locality of reality, I have been told explicitly and forcefully by a handful too many of women over the years that such fantasies are nerdy and hopelessly male—“real” women are completely uninterested in such levels of communication for the sake of such communication.When you discover that, according to the Annette Insdorf DVD commentary, Krzysztof Kieslowski died in a Warsaw hospital because of a “botched” heart operation—because he had a heart condition just like Weronika and Véronique—you have entered the place beyond so-called “art.” It is so sad that when one questions my questioning of art, one does not think deeply about these “strange” coincidences—and this one remains in the phenomenal prison of the superficial.
And, speaking of superficial, when you subscribe to the practical and realistic woman’s fight for domination in patriarchy, Kieslowski falls short. One message in his movie says that the woman who has multiple sex partners and values her exciting career over the relatively boring security of domestic monogamy (the gilded cage of the subtle exploitation of the muse polished by the adoring lover) dies. Experience informs me that many of the ladies of today are “too smart” to fall for this one.