The film is about 2 young women—Weronika in Poland and Veronique in France. They look alike (both played by Irene Jacob), though Weronika is more animated and passionate, and Veronique is more melancholy, with her head in the clouds. They have many things in common: both grow up with a single father; both sing and have beautiful voices; both have a heart condition; both rub their eyelids with a gold ring, and so on.
They are not aware of each other till 1 day, Weronika happens to see Veronique on a trip. Soon after, Weronika dies.
Reviews and essays usually say the basic premise of the film is that the 2 women are not aware of each other’s existence, but somehow Veronique “learns” from Weronika’s mistakes, like she is given a 2nd chance. Weronika prioritises singing above everything else, including her heart, and it kills her; Veronique gives up singing lessons.
That’s not the way I see it. To me, The Double Life of Veronique, above all, is about a feeling—the feeling that maybe there is someone in the world who is just like me, like a lost twin, a double. Have you ever had that feeling? I have, which is why I have a bit of an obsession with doubles. It could be a warm thought—maybe I’m not alone. But at the same time it’s also discomforting—maybe I’m not unique, maybe I don’t really matter.
At the same time, it should also be seen in the context of Kieslowski’s work. Kieslowski’s interested in chance, and the different paths one may take. In Blind Chance, 3 scenarios lead to 3 different lives and career paths. It could be that all 3 are the different possibilities. It could also be that the 3rd one is real, as the film begins with Witek screaming, and he thinks about the other lives he might have had if he had got involved in politics—perhaps that could have saved him.
Later in Three Colours: Red, Kieslowski again tackles the theme of chance and different paths: a retired judge meets Valentine (also played by Irene Jacob), after years of disillusionment and cynicism, and wonders what may have happened if they had met 40 years earlier; but his life finds parallels in a young law student, and at the end of the film, the student meets Valentine.
In The Double Life of Veronique, Kieslowski uses doubles and the idea of parallel existences (Weronika and Veronique) in order to play with the same theme—the 2 women are like the same person in different scenarios because of their different choices.
See what Roger Ebert says:
“Kieslowski almost never made a film about characters who lacked choices. Indeed, his films were usually about their choices, how they arrived at them, and the close connections they made or missed.Read the entire review.
Most films make the unspoken assumption that their characters are defined by and limited to their plots. But lives are not about stories.
Stories are about lives. That is the difference between films for children and films for adults. Kieslowski celebrates intersecting timelines and lifelines, choices made and unmade. All his films ask why, since God gave us free will, movie directors go to such trouble to take it away.”
“Because he made most of his early work in Poland during the Cold War, and because his masterpiece "The Decalogue" consists of 10 one-hour films that do not fit easily on the multiplex conveyor belt, he has still not received the kind of recognition given those he deserves to be named with, like Bergman, Ozu, Fellini, Keaton and Bunuel. He is one of the filmmakers I would turn to for consolation if I learned I was dying, or to laugh with on finding I would live after all.”I’ve read Kieslowski on Kieslowski (edited by Danusia Stok) recently, and at the moment I’m reading The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski: Variations on Destiny and Chance by Marek Haltof. These books remind me of how much I love Kieslowski.