The Double Life of Veronique (1991) is a stupefying visual poem, filled with parallels and paradoxes, reflections and refractions. doppelgängers and deities. Director Krzysztof Kieslowski attempts to use the language of cinema to build a bridge between the spiritual and the physical, making the unseen and the unknown as important to his film as its flesh and blood characters. This approach gives the film an air of mystical alienation that’s both constant and unsettling. It also raises important questions that challenge conventional notions of the true nature of existence. And, in typical Kieslowski fashion, the answers are left up to the viewer.
Appropriately, The Double Life of Veronique is actually two films in one. The first act deals with a young woman in Poland (Irene Jacob) who has just gotten a big break in her fledgling career as a classical singer. One day on the cobblestone streets of Krakow, she spots a French tourist (Jacob in a double role) who could be her identical twin, setting off a chain of heartbreaking events. The remainder of the film is devoted to the story of this tourist, who returns to Paris and becomes involved with a mysterious marionette (Philippe Volter) who’s not only talented at manipulating puppets, but people’s lives as well.
From these scant elements, Kieslowski creates an enigmatic atmosphere that suggests the boundaries between the individual and the divine pressed to the breaking point. It’s an idea that Kieslowski would advance further in his next collaboration with Jacob, 1994’s Three Colors: Red. In these films, Kieslowski took the notion of God’s silence - a recurring theme of his idol Ingmar Bergman - and turned it upside down. His thesis is God - perhaps not Yahweh but some type of supreme entity - is in constant contact with us, but not always with benign intent. This realization has an unnerving effect on Kieslowski’s characters, who find their identity, and their individual sovereignty, threatened by their cosmic insignificance.
In 1991, Irene Jacob may have been the most beautiful woman to ever walk the earth. And if she wasn’t, she was close enough. Her unique combination of the ethereal and the vulnerable serves as a perfect vessel - the missing link as it were - between the current version of humanity and the lofty peaks to which we might evolve, provided we don’t destroy ourselves first. Irene Jacob won the best actress award at Cannes for The Double Life of Veronique, and at the time it seemed her horizons were limitless. But with Kieslowski’s untimely death in 1996, Jacob’s career has floundered, as no other director has figured out how to capitalize on her rare and remarkable presence. Just like the young Veroniques, Irene Jacob’s career could use a little divine intervention.