Krzysztof Kieślowski’s sublime reverie (“La double vie de Véronique”) is not about double lives per se, or even doppelgangers, but the near-holy connection between all that lives. It’s as a close to a latter day portrayal of religious ecstasy as anyone has come in recent cinema. To achieve this trance-like holism, Kieślowski divides the film into two lyric parts. The first and shorter installment covers the life of young Polish would-be opera singer Weronika (Irène Jacob), whose angelic voice is noticed as unusual and otherworldly by those around her. But she, too, is otherworldly. She senses she’s not alone. She sees herself, her own face, on a tour bus in Krakow. She lives within her voice, from vision to vision, an anointed seer among Baroque characters. She’s also fragile.
And then she’s gone. Reborn, cinematically, as the woman she saw in Krakow, a French high school music teacher in Paris who is also unsettled and appears to live life, and love, in a state of naively pained rapture. As her Polish counterpart Weronika felt un-alone, Paris Véronique — Jacob again — feels just the opposite. She’s isolated and in search of a missing self.
When Paris Véronique falls for a marionette-maker and children’s book writer, she is all but reincarnated as a continuum of selves. Kieślowski toys with time and space to allow for a reverential musings on the prism that is life, as well as the challenge of choice. Tilted one way, it involves a young woman in Poland. Tilted another, her spiritual double comes to life in France. They are one and they are not.
Jacob is superlative in both roles, but it is Kieślowski’s imbuing of wonder, and his use of hymns, that makes the whole into a short history of being, loving, and dying. The ambition here is sweeping enough to leave some ends dangling and some musings incomplete, if not overwrought, but Kieślowski possessed the rare ability to make cinematic sense from the most complex of existential yearnings, and he does it here in a way few have rivaled or ever will.