The Double Life of Véronique [La Double vie de Véronique], Krzysztof Kieslowski's exquisite poem of a film exploring the notion of dual identity, is one of a small handful of back catalogue titles that UK distributor Artificial Eye have re-released on Blu-ray, an ongoing project that has produced decidedly mixed results. Certainly the picture quality of their Blu-ray release of Kitano Takeshi's Zatoichi offered little incentive to upgrade from the DVD, while the HD version of Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express was a significant improvement on previous SD versions.
The prospect of seeing and hearing any Kieslowski in HD is a tantalising one, and it's the second of those two senses that have been responsible for my delay in covering this release. Rarely do I encounter a film whose soundtrack has an impact that comes close to outstripping its visuals, but such is always the case with late career Kieslowski, and these are amongst the most visually striking films of late twentieth century cinema. And this is not the result of a remix prepared for digital home cinema formats, but exactly how they sound in the cinema, even on an older, non-digital sound system. At the small, 120-seat and quaintly ageing cinema in which our film society has a home, the only other film whose soundtrack boasted the quality heard on The Double Life of Véronique was Apocalypse Now Redux. Yep, it was that good.
So for me, Artificial Eye couldn't have chosen a better Kieslowski film for a Blu-ray upgrade than this one. But when the preview disc arrived I had a problem. Though I've had my big plasma TV and Blu-ray player for some time, I didn't yet have a home cinema amplifier capable of decoding uncompressed HD soundtracks, and if you're considering upgrading from the DVD version – and given that this disc has the very same extras, the decision to do so will be based solely on the quality of the picture and sound – I'd be a little remiss if I was unable to accurately report on an aspect that is so crucial to this film. Well that's all changed, and with my lovely new Sony amp set up and configured (never has that process been as easy), I'm finally able to accurately report on both the picture and sound on Artificial Eye's disc.
I've already covered the film in my DVD review and see no reason to revise what I wrote, which you can find here.
The Double Life of Véronique is one of those films that presents a bit of a challenge for Blu-ray due to its use of heavy colour tinting, which is notorious for taking the edge off of picture sharpness and narrowing the contrast range. But compare this new Blu-ray directly with the previous double-disc DVD – both of which were sourced from the French MK2 releases – and the improvements in resolution are clearly apparent, providing noticeably crisper reproduction of fine detail. This can be measured at the start of chapter 7 when a car number plate that is an indistinct blur on the DVD is clearly legible on the Blu-ray, and is gorgeously evident in the richness and crisp detail in the scene where Véronique visits her father's house at the beginning of chapter 8. Within the restrictions of the tinting, the contrast is absolutely spot-on, and despite the similarity of tone in many areas of the picture – light coloured walls all have a similar tinted shade – there's not a hint of banding or compression artefacts. This really is as good as I've seen the film look. The original 1.66:1 framing has been retained.
The 5.1 surround track on the DVD was an impressive beast, but is outshone in almost every respect by the DTS Master-HD 5.1 track here, which has more volume and punch, even greater clarity and a subtle but wonderfully inclusive separation that really does envelop you in key locations, with the highlights of the previous Dolby surround track – Weronika entering the bustling city square, the playback of tape she receives and her arrival at the railway station – sounding absolutely wonderful here. Honestly, in the case of the square and the station you could almost believe you were there. Any scene involving musical instruments has a lovely richness, and the playback quality of the above mentioned audio tape boasts the sort of dynamic range and depth of sound that leaves even the Dolby track standing. Oh yes, this is what I bought the new amp to experience. There's an intriguing indication of the frame rate change from 25fps on the DVD to the correct projection speed of 24fps at the start of chapter 3, when a single note on a piano played for Weronika is at a noticeably lower pitch on the Blu-ray.
Content-wise, this is essentially Artificial Eye's previous 2-disc DVD with the main feature upgraded. All of the extras appear to be 1080p, though whether they've actually been remastered is another matter – the short films in particular look pretty much as they do on the DVD, though the subtitles are sharper. If you want the full details of the extra features check my review of the DVD here.
Don't go looking for new extras, as this is essentially the same release as the previous Artificial Eye/MK2 DVD, but if you're a fan of the film then the picture and sound upgrade will be reason enough for the purchase, and if you've not got around to buying the film on home video yet then this is definitely the one to go for. Looking back on the summary of my DVD review, it's interesting to reflect how Blu-ray has shifted the bar for what constitutes great picture and sound quality and with that in mind, everything I said there now goes for this release and it thus comes highly recommended.