Second chances

The Double Life of Veronique

In the 15 years since its debut, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique has acquired a poignantly august stature, as if it weren’t a movie so much as a hallowed treatise on the metaphysics of quiet magnificence. Actually, it had all that to begin with. Now it also has the force of compounded nostalgia, and is as deserving of another look as it is defiant of written description.

A passing tone between Kieslowski’s masterpieces, The Decalogue and Three Colors, and the first film he made after the demise of Soviet communism, Veronique signals the upheavals of its era obliquely and elegantly. It essays a then-new permeability of Europe’s east-west frontier with no trace of political didacticism, preferring instead an intuitive assertion of the filmmaker’s lifelong concern for human connectedness. Basically, it is about two identical women living parallel but separate lives (one in Poland, one in France, both played with nearly ecstatic openness by Irène Jacob), who sense their connection without ever fully understanding it. Maybe the best way to describe the film, though, is to reiterate the account of a French teenager who once told the late filmmaker that seeing it had convinced her there was such a thing as the soul.

One suspects that was precisely his intention, and the precision of Kieslowski’s intentions was always what kept him grounded, even in such essentially ephemeral work. With a light but indelible touch, he could get portentous without getting phony. As is literally manifest in cinematographer Slawomir Idziak’s sumptuous, carefully filtered compositions, and in Zbigniew Preisner’s characteristically haunting score, Veronique describes unseen, unnamable things; it’s at once coyly opaque and effusively transparent. But what it leaves you with are the small, celebratory declarations of inner life, the real wonderment of finding a way through the world.