topherfroehlich’s review published on Letterboxd:
i. Personal Preamble
I think about this movie a lot. Even though I have only seen it three times.
Key images tend to just blip in and out of my head, owing to the fact that, surely, this is one of the most immaculately shot movies (pardon the hyperbole) ever. I just watch it and think the cinematography wars are over; this movie holds the crown and none shall ever usurp it from the throne.
(This isn't concrete, I think the same when I watch Days of Heaven and plenty of others as well.)
I bring this up not just to compliment the film but to echo a key point of praise often lavished on it:
This movie is dreamy as hell. Dreamier than even Mulholland Drive maybe. It's so dreamy sometimes I feel like I dreamed it. When I'm remembering it, I'm thinking of it less in terms of what happened and more just remembering it like I would a pleasant walk I took.
But, so what, right? Big deal the movie looks great, plenty do, what more is on offer?
Good question. One that has bothered me.
You see, in 2014 when I first saw this film, I certainly did not "get" it. I loved it just for looking great and being mysterious. Qualities which I thought constituted "great cinema". I equated being opaque with being poetic. (I'm not accusing this film of being opaque, promise.)
Then last year I think, I rewatched it; loved the first 30 minutes and hated the shit out of the next hour. I didn't understand what was happening, I wasn't satisfied by aesthetics alone, and spent my time finding fault with its logic.
Lately, I started thinking of those dreamy images again and really wanted to give the film another shot, because I am rarely satisfied by my own dislike of well-liked things. I am not content to think I can't improve my critical faculties.
ii. The Value of Unsolved Mysteries
The same night I watched this film, I also watched the final two episodes of "The Sopranos". The final scene of which is famously ambiguous. Is Tony dead or is he alive?
The thing is, I was only aware of that question because of its existence outside the text. Watching the scene, I wasn't wondering that myself. Nor do I think it's the point of the scene.
See, whether Tony is alive or dead, has very little to do with anything "The Sopranos" was about. The major dramatic question was never, is this guy going to live? It was always, can this monstrosity of a man change?
(Sidebar: no. No he can't.)
What would be the point in leaving it unsolved whether he lives or dies? What does it have to do with anything thematically related to the material? Besides giving us a puzzle, what purpose would such a deliberate mystery serve?
Maybe these questions have good answers. My point is more this:
Ambiguity, mysteriousness, unsolved answers, are not implicitly good qualities in and of themselves. They have to serve a purpose like anything else. I always think of Philbert, the show within a show on "Bojack Horseman", where the showrunner is clearly a man without ideas, who thinks the lack of concrete answers in his show is the very thing which gives it depth. Since some things don't mean anything specific, they could mean anything, and that's deeeeeeep, man.
Horseshit, of course.
"The Double Life of Veronique" asks, among other things, What connects people?
Maybe it's ineffable. A sense that someone else is out there who's just like us, sharing our thoughts and experiences. Maybe it's some kind of invisible string that tethers us (like a shoelace, or puppet string). Maybe we can't explain it at all.
On my second watch of this film, what frustrated me most, the thing I derided as illogical, was the romance between Veronique and the Puppeteer (maybe he's got a name, but I'm sticking with the Puppeteer). Veronique gets mailed some cryptic objects. She gets a phone call in the middle of the night that easily reads as extremely creepy out of context: the puppeteer doesn't identify himself and leaves a long creepy silence before talking. Then he plays some music. Big crazy stalker energy. Then they meet in a cafe and he insults her by saying he's using her as a test subject for a novel he's working on. She runs off, he follows her. Despite her efforts to avoid him, he catches up to her, says he's sorry, she says for what, he says I don't know and basically recants that apology, as if he didn't do anything weird or creepy. Then they say they're in love with each other and have some sweet arthouse sex.
What the fuck, right?
Hang on though.
Does Krzystof Kieślowski really want to make a movie about a dude who's a total shitlord stalker getting to hookup with Irene Jacobs? Somehow, I doubt it.
Maybe just maybe what seems strange is intentionally so, to ask a bigger, more pertinent question:
What is connecting these two people? I.E what connects people?
Their coupling feels strange to us but seems to make sense to them. As Veronique puts it:
"I always sense what I should do."
In other words, their love is predetermined. Earlier she tells her father she knows she's in love, she just doesn't know who with yet, as if she has some incomplete second sight. She has a feeling, an intuition, a sense of something more than what can be easily or logically explained, the same inexplicable way she knows her doppelganger has died.
The movie doesn't tell us how Veronique knows these things. This is its unanswered mystery and the point of that mystery isn't to just get us to try and solve it like some puzzle (even though that's really fun to do). The point of this being unexplained is that it wants us to ponder the questions its raising:
Is love fated? Are our souls connected by more than material reality? Do we have free will? What's the worth of intuition? What really compels us to take the actions we take? And are puppeteers kinda hot?
I guess if they look like a cross between Dominic West and Willem Dafoe, maybe.
iii. A Wild Interpretation or Two
Like everyone else, I too enjoy partaking in speculation, interpretation, etc.
So here's two somewhat wild, somewhat plausible interpretations of what's going on between Veronique and the Puppeteer.
A. The Puppeteer is God
Who else do we know who treats those who love him like absolute shit, puts his faithful through bizarre, unexplainable tests, sends cryptic hints, doesn't apologize for his shitty behavior, and is often thought of as the man pulling the strings? I kid, but doesn't Veronique's love feel a lot like faith? She can't explain it, she's never met the person she loves but loves them nonetheless... Even I think this Puppeteer as God argument is kinda weak, more in the ballpark of "fan theory" but given Kieślowski's interest in spirituality, the ineffable, literal Christianity (see The Dekalog) I don't think it's too far removed from his ideas. Maybe the Puppeteer isn't literally a God stand-in, but questions of what guides our actions permeate the work, leading to the more interesting but somewhat related idea...
B. The Double Life of Veronique as a Metaficitonal Work
Maybe the Puppeteer isn't God, but he's the next closest thing in a movie: he's the artist. He's the authorial stand-in. He's the one who says the whole quest is a psychological test of Veronique, she loves him because she's fated to (i.e she's been scripted to), he literally makes a puppet of her and in the end, he reveals he authored a children's story that is strikingly similar to Veronique's life, down to possessing a double. An act which sends her away from him and running home. She realizes maybe she doesn't have free will after all.
I don't think these theories are "right" so much as they point to the questions being raised. Kieślowski isn't explicitly making a metafictional work, but he's playing with those elements and their implications to further his questions and themes. There's so much more worth talking about with this movie that I didn't even touch on, mostly cause I don't know how to say "gee opera sounds real pretty" and "boy is Irene Jacobs great in this, eh?" in an interesting way. I'll work on it for next time.
*Kinda want to use this as a video essay script. Perhaps in the future!