The Double Life Of Veronique – Beauty As A Narrative Device

Quick Thoughts: The Double Life Of Veronique (1991)

We follow two identical, but unrelated, women as they attempt to make strides in the music careers as well as their personal lives.

The Double Life of Veronique

The Double Life of Veronique is a highly immersive and intricately masterful film by Krzysztof Kieślowski, who is known for the Three Colours films. Its ambiguous exploration of reality and personage is what draws you into the ever unfolding subtext as we follow Veronique on a journey of self loss (if those are the right words) and self discovery. And all of this culminates in an intriguing climax that’s imbued with melancholy and, in some senses, resolve, but also a dark spot that left me in suspension.

I will definitely have to re-watch this film to get a better grip on its narrative before I can confidently discuss it, but I have to say that this is a cinematic experience that isn’t really dependent on understanding. As with many of Tarkovsky’s works (I know I mention him far too often), you simply have to feel your way through the narrative and allow it to absorb you. And Kieślowski makes this no task at all. With his cinematographer, Sławomir Idziak, Kieślowski conjures some of the most sumptuous and atmospheric imagery ever put to film. The use of greens, reds and yellows throughout this film is hypnotically poignant, creating textures and tones that defy description. In fact, the aesthetic side of The Double Life Of Veronique is so integral to the experience of the film that it becomes apart of the narrative. And by this, I don’t mean to suggest that Kieślowski’s use of colour composition, mise en scène, framing and lighting provide subtext and meaning. The simple beauty of the shots in this film are so powerful that they, at face value, become a narrative device; one that sets mood and atmosphere, supporting the channel by which the story is fed to us.

You may argue that beauty, or aesthetic, is actually a narrative device of all films. However, how many films actually make this idea obvious, or showcase an understanding of this? In my opinion, very few. A good point of comparison to be made right now is to the recent Kong: Skull Island. When we discussed this film, we delved into digital aesthetics. And in dipping our toe into this subject from a purely observational viewpoint, we explored the idea that many blockbusters nowadays are pretty ugly. This is a truly nonsensical paradigm when we consider the fact that most blockbusters are supposed to be a form of spectacle. Of all films, we would expect blockbusters to understand this idea that beauty can be a narrative device. This seems to not be the case, however, when we look to things such as Kong and the plethora of superhero movies.

In thinking about this after watching The Double Life Of Veronique, I can’t help but ask how and why this has come to be. Why are the most spectacular of films with the biggest budgets, relatively (to their budget and crew), some of the ugliest?

I’m sure there is no actual answer to this question, but, it seems very apparent that there’s a stereotypically distinguishing term we may use when we looking at film: art/arthouse. ‘Art’, in respect to cinema, often connotes the low budget, the experimental, the independent and, sometimes, the pretentious. And with the better of the arthouse films, we also come to see/expect the most unique and playful of aesthetics that are often incredibly beautiful – that in fact try to be just so. However, we usually don’t think of blockbusters when the term ‘art’ is uttered in a conversation on film. The paradigm then seems to be, under the guise of aesthetics, that art films try to stun you with the fundamentals (lighting, framing, colour composition), whilst big blockbusters attempt to dazzle you with everything low budget movies can’t: CGI, flashy camera movement, huge sets and high-end kit. The problem with the latter is obvious, and the solution seems to be that the directors of these huge blockbusters need concentrate on the fundamentals and get a bit artsy-fartsy once in a while – or maybe just watch The Double Life Of Veronique.

I’ll end by turning this over to you. Do you think that beauty is a narrative device in films? How do you think this is managed by blockbusters? Do a lot more directors need to sit down and pay attention to a film like The Double Life Of Veronique?



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