Essay #3, The Double Life of Veronique

My next essay (click here for explanation) focused on The Double Life of Veronique (1991, dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski). This is the shortest and most bare bones paper-I think I like it even though it doesn’t go very far beyond the scene itself?

Wooden Body, Butterfly Soul: Puppetry in The Double Life of Veronique

The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1991) spends approximately the first half hour of the film’s runtime focusing on Weronika, an optimistic, lively choir singer from Poland who visits her sick aunt in Krakow. While visiting, she sees a woman who looks exactly like she does aboard a bus in a public square, but continues with her stay and ends up winning the audition for a solo part in a concert. She collapses and dies in the middle of the performance, but we see a brief overhead shot as the camera flies over the heads of the audience [28:21-28]. The film’s focus then shifts to the woman she saw on board the bus, a French teacher and student of music named Veronique, who now feels very lonely without being able to explain why, but soon discovers what she is missing via a puppet performance that has several parallels to the life of Weronika and essentially explains the severance of her connection [35:45-39:58].

Worth noting here are some of the smaller details present in Weronika’s portion of the film that come to play in Veronique’s section as well. The cinematography and lighting are strange and inauthentic, with the colors green and gold being prevalent in most shots, particularly during times of high emotion (such as the concert), and often bleeding into each other and giving what we see an alien, otherworldly look. There are also many POV camera shots with odd angles, focus, or dimensions (such as the aforementioned overhead shot of the audience after Weronika dies, which is oddly warped). Weronika also has a heart problem, and her death during the concert is heavily implied to be the result of straining her heart too much when singing. Finally, only one piece of music appears in the film, the piece that Weronika sings at her concert, which is written in the film’s world by a fictional composer from Holland named Van den Budenmayer.

When the focus shifts to Veronique’s life in France in the aftermath of Weronika’s death in Poland, we see her deciding to quit her music studies (she cannot give a good reason, but the film later implies that she had realized continuing could lead to her having a heart attack as well via her severed connection to Weronika) before heading to the school that she teaches at. When she arrives, she is told by a colleague that the school is having an assembly for the students featuring a marionette performer [35:45].

The film cuts immediately to the marionette performance itself, which has the unsettling visual of a set of hands reaching from complete darkness [35:48] to take a ballerina puppet out of a box and perform the piece. The camera cuts to shots of the students or Veronique watching the performance in the shot/reverse shot pattern throughout, and the hands controlling the puppet are visible throughout the entire sequence-in other words, they control the fate of everything that happens in the performance.

The ballerina puppet is seen looking around when the box is opened before exiting and performing a ballet dance [36:09-40, 36:47-50, 36:55-37:12]. When we next cut to Veronique watching the show, the green lighting appears stronger [36:44 and 37:15]. The puppet jumps into a split and lands [37:18-22], but the music grows sadder and she begins to slowly lay down, indicating that she has been hurt [37:28]. When the puppet does one final reach for the sky before her hand drops [37:38-39], implying her death, we see a frightened student cuddle up against Veronique [37:41]. There is a change to a POV shot from Veronique’s perspective of an older female puppet appearing to hover over the ballerina [38:09], followed by the camera taking an unusually sharp and quick left pan so we see the puppeteer controlling the puppets behind the stage [38:10-13], which is then followed by a shot of Veronique looking at him performing [38:14-18]. We then hear a change in the music playing during the performance so that we hear the piece of music that Weronika was singing during her fatal concert, complete with her vocals being used [38:19].

The elderly female puppet covers the dead ballerina puppet with a shroud as Veronique watches the puppeteer at work some more [38:25-38]. He appears strangely out of focus and is illuminated by gold lighting [38:39-43], with his hands not appearing in Veronique’s viewpoint. The hands doing the performance lift up the shrouded puppet [38:44-54] as we then see a shot of the audience [38:55-39:01]. The focus in the audience shot is on Veronique looking in the opposite direction as everyone else, with the green lighting becoming very noticeable in a sea of people wearing all black school uniforms. The hands remove the shroud and the ballerina stands, alive once more [39:02-11], as we see Veronique appearing very moved despite not watching the performance itself [39:12-14].

The ballerina puppet grows a pair of green and gold butterfly wings while looking upward [39:15-22], which is followed by a cut of the puppeteer controlling her so that she flies off the back of the stage [39:23-25], before we see him notice and gaze intently at something that has caught his attention [39:26-29]. We never receive confirmation that he is looking at Veronique, but the next shot of Veronique in her classroom, teaching the very same music piece by Budenmayer to her students, all but confirms it for the audience [39:30-58].

The performance is, essentially, how Veronique realizes why she feels so alone on a subconscious level even if she does not recognize it on a conscious one due to a lack of knowledge. The elderly female puppet is Weronika’s sick aunt who has to bury her niece, and the ballerina is Weronika herself, complete with both dying from doing what they love too passionately. The hands controlling the performance are pushing the two women together, and both Veronique and the children can sense the strangeness of what they are being shown, and react accordingly.

The relationship between Veronique and the puppeteer, during the time when thdy do not know each other, is worth exploring-Veronique may not be watching the performance directly, but her emotional reaction hints at a deeper understanding, along with his intense stare at her at the end of the sequence. While this may be unintentional, the heavy gold lighting on the puppeteer and the heavy green lighting on Veronique, two colors which are right next to each other on the spectrum, may be a small hint at a deeper emotional connection between the two. The out of focus nature of the shot of the puppeteer is a reflection of Veronique’s frame of mind, with the truth being just beyond her grasp.

Green and gold are also prevalent in the revived puppet’s butterfly wings, showing that Weronika and Veronique truly are intertwined souls, but what the sequence also does successfully with the reveal of the butterfly wings is use the symbol of the puppet to explain what happened to Weronika. Weronika’s body could not take the amount of raw energy she put into her singing, and it essentially broke down and died, but her soul not only lived on, but it flew away, more beautiful than it was before, over the heads of her final audience, even when some of them instinctively recoiled from what they saw. Veronique may be ignorant of having a doppelganger on a referential level, but she recognizes something in the puppet performance on a deeper plane of knowledge, and it galvanizes her to look for what is missing from what was once a double but is now a single life.

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