Anyone who knows me is familiar with my fascination with Krzysztof Kieslowski’s film, La Double Vie de Véronique. I must have mentioned it numerous times on this blog, and I’ve watched it more times. Last night, as I was writing, I was suddenly struck with a detail that revealed to me part of the reason for my fascination with the film.
In my family, there is a type of ritual associated with the process of opening old photo albums and gazing at photographs. The feeling that I have when undertaking such a ritual is similar to the one I feel when watching La Double Vie de Véronique. Only it goes deeper than that, in a curious mix of the personal and the critical. Last night, I found the vocabulary to express this curious feeling when Roland Barthes’s book on photography, Camera Lucida, popped into my mind as I was writing on a completely different topic.
In Camera Lucida, Barthes discusses the difference between what he calls the “studium” and the “punctum” of a photograph. The studium refers to the cultural, ideological, or political level of a photograph, while the punctum refers to the personal, touching and individual aspect of a photograph. To me, watching La Double Vie de Véronique is like feeling the studium and punctum of the imagery within the film collide, intermix and become something completely different through their intermingling. It’s as if the political and national undertones of the film are given such a personal and individual sense of nostalgia, that they create their own cinematic language. Coloured in sepia tones and golden washes, the images of the film already speak of nostalgia and a sense of distance that comes with viewing images within a photo album. Only here, this nostalgia is coupled with unspoken political messages established through Weronika and Véronique’s inexplicable bond across Poland and France.
There is probably no better example of this than the scene where Weronika first views her French double, Véronique, amidst a political demonstration. Somehow, the tone of this revelation of her non-biological twin would not be as deeply touching and strange were it not set against such obvious national and ideological turmoil. This is what moves me about certain photographs and images: the sense of ourselves that is revealed to an imaginary audience as a small piece of history; the idea that even a tiny gesture or glance has significance as a wider narrative. It’s the same type of reflection I enter into when I stare at a particular photograph in a museum for ages, trying to understand why I can’t stop looking at it. So maybe I’ve uncovered a bit of what makes this film so interesting to me. But I suspect there’s more.
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