A Poetry in Motion
by Aritra Dey
TLR Rating: 8 Reels.
Europe among other things is the haven for poetry. The astute happiness, the beautiful love and the melancholic sadness culminate in fine verses, rhyming perfectly in those pine forests, the grassy moors and the perfect stony streets. Poets spring up like wild bushes there, with a pen and paper in hand, feeling the pastoral beauty and experiencing love like a leaf in a breeze. They create wonders, emulating the colors of nature in their verses. Krzysztof Kieslowski is one of these fine poets, and he sketched his masterpiece in a 98 minute reel named ‘La double vie de Veronique’.
Beautiful is perfect adjective that can be given to this film, and its rendering starts from the very first scene itself. What can be more innocent than a mother showing her child in Poland the Christmas Eve star or a mother showing her child the veins of a fallen autumn leaf in France? Polish Weronika and French Veronique are the leaves of the same tree- similar in everything, but separated by miles in the autumn breeze. An invisible thread connects them, and each contraction of the thread draws them closer, eerily making them realize the other’s presence, but encasing that thought in a shadowy veil of obscurity. And when one leaf is snapped out of the bond, the other feels the pang of separation, trembling with grief in a realm of unknown. Melancholia creeps in and it weeps in ignorance. A strange tale of love and poetic tragedy is weaved, in a canvas of the fantastic tale of duality.
Weronika is blessed with a unique voice and is a romantic at heart. She looks up at the heavens and feels the falling rain drops on her face as she raises her voice to the clouds, singing in tandem with nature, and this being her real orchestra, the choir where she originally belonged. She makes passionate love in her drenched clothes and watches the world though a transparent ball, feeling its sublimity in every tone. She loves to love and not only to a man, her love transgresses all physical barriers and roams in the metaphysical. Yet there is a hidden sadness in her, a feeling that she is somehow incomplete. She can feel a presence, and she daintily confesses that to her bewildered father. When she sees her reflection, her soul from a distance, she doesn’t attempt to reach out, but smiles in peace, looking at the departing bus, while chaos reigned all around. At the concert, she sings her heart out, as if calling out to her soul, and departs from the physical world, building up on a weak heart which had caused discomfort earlier.
At that very point, the French girl Veronique feels an ineffable sadness creep up on her while making love to her partner. She weeps, knowing the reason why and yet dark about the facts. A sense of warning forces her to quit her music lessons, and disappoint her master for she too had that high, magical voice. She too embarks on a journey of love, its inception being at a puppet show. A music haunts her, the same tune which her doppelganger had sung on her last day, and she teaches the same to her new class. The same notes reach her over telephone and a cassette, sent by her admirer, the puppeteer. She sets on the journey, following the clues and meets her man at a station, the entirety of her journey being guided by something mystical, something quite powerful. The feeling of betrayal overwhelms her when she discovers the true intention of the man, and compels her to leave the scene. The man pursues and she is drawn to him again. While they make love, she discovers the identity of her other half, in a photograph, she had mistakenly clicked in Poland. She weeps now, the darkness having lifted from her sight. The puppeteer creates a new doll set, looking exactly like Veronique. And he explains, as he has to handle the dolls a lot, he had created two. Veronique plays with one, while the other doll lies still on the table, quietly.
Krzysztof Kieslowski blended in the feeling of supernatural with mysticism, and his poem spoke of alluring love, intuition and unspoken feelings. He left a lot to implication for the viewer, letting him/her into the folds of his work and understand the chasms of alternate reality which he had created. Weronika had spied an old woman dragging herself on the street and she had offered to help her in good nature. Who was she? Was it Death itself, slowly creeping towards her? Or was it Despair finally broken free from the shackles? The scene where Veronique decided to quit her music lessons all of a sudden was quietly shot but spoke volumes. Did she quit because of a warning bell? If so, who was it who had warned her? Krzysztof, unlike any other mainstream director, let mysticism play out its course in this, rather than divulging the details. The suspense was superbly created, and every note started to become more and more haunting. The music of the late composer caught both their souls and circled around their lives. Was that a coincidence too? Who was that puppeteer who had stolen the elusive heart of Veronique? Was he a normal human being or an element of the supernatural? The response ’I have to handle them a lot’ raises more questions than it answers, and the puppeteer holds up the lookalike doll in a God like manner, making the viewer sit uptight.
Apart from the mystic elements in ‘La double vie de Veronique’, Krzysztof somehow managed to showcase melancholia in beauty hitherto unseen. There was somehow an element of grace in all the sad moments and especially in death. The prevalent romanticism puts its arms around the death of Weronika, making it seem as if, she had gone into a mere slumber, only to wake up later as an angelic butterfly, much like story the puppeteer shows on stage. The realization of separation in Veronique arrives almost elegantly, creeping up her beautiful face like a song, caressing her expressive eyes like a lover and coaxing the tears out of them. While the puppeteer and Veronique start fiddling with the doll, its counterpart lies on the table silently, and that image has a thousand words written all over it, the beauty of separation creeping up at all points. The only meeting between the two lines was shown in a sea of chaos, not in a serene environment, highlighting a moment of happiness in the turmoil of life, and how that speck of joy remains evergreen and unperturbed.
Irene Jacob plays out the doppelgangers with a stunning perfection. Her beauty and charm floats into the characters, and the double life of Veronique finds life through her. She brought out the inner pathos and joy with equal ease, making the viewer empathize with each and every bit of emotional upheaval. Her Renaissance beauty is soulful and silent, and she emotes through herself, not taking the hand of speech. She takes the film out of the scope of reality like Krzysztof wanted it to, never wanting it to return. The cinematographer, Slawomir Idziak finds his perfect palette in Irene, painting her in vivid close ups, capturing her emotions with a magical perfection. He takes his camera work to a whole new level in this movie, taking shots which fitted in perfectly with the tone of the story. The camera tilted and rolled with the woman, looked into her eyes and through them, felt the shadows and reveled in light. His excellence in craft is proved by his audacious shots, like the slow zoom out from the spectacle point-of-view of Weronika’s father and the shadowy shot of Veronique, keeping her out of focus. This camera work heightened the mystic aura this movie wanted to provide. Zbigniew Preisner’s eerie haunting music sent chills down the viewer’s spine with sharp rise in scale and tone.
This poem on tangential bonds is uniquely beautiful. The spell ‘La double vie de Veronique’ had cast is permanent and one cannot simply come out of it. It deserved all the accolades it had received in the Cannes and perhaps should have had a nod in the Oscars as well. It set the prelude for Krzysztof’s next ‘Three Colors’ and marshalled him to the list of elite filmmakers around the globe.