The relationship between great film directors and their actors can be perfunctory--Alfred Hitchcock showed open contempt for the succession of cool blonds ensnared in his thrillers, and entire casts quaked before the imperiousness of Erich Von Stroheim.
But when kindred souls meet on the set, the bond can be mystical, the results transcendent. Consider Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann, Luis Bunuel and Catherine Deneuve, Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro.
Consider also Krzysztof Kieslowski and Irene Jacob.
The Polish director, considered by many the most gifted working today, has directed the beautiful Swiss actress just twice--in The Double Life of Veronique and the last part of his colors trilogy, Red. But she has become the embodiment of his emotions, the physical representation of his ideas, his alter ego.
Not surprisingly, she understands that:
"In Red, what Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz have written about, I believe, is the inner dialogue we have between all the expectations we have when we are young--our hopes, our beliefs--and the disbelief and distrust that come with experience. This dialogue is kept always alive inside us. Here's a story about a girl at the beginning of life and an older man who has been hurt by life, an unlikable man...but he's longing for a reaction from her. And she wants to know all about him. She feels intimately provoked. She wants to know about life, wants to think everything has an importance, that you can do things, that you can change things. She doesn't know about limits, as he does. Kieslowski says the film is about fraternity. It shows that we need each other to hold off isolation, to awaken things in us. It's always a mystery whom we will touch. We never know."
That's Red in a nutshell, you might say, and Kieslowski himself might not be able to say it better. Watching Jacob's brief appearance in Louis Malle's Au Revoir les Enfants, the director saw something special, something essential to his work. In The Double Life of Veronique, they both began to plumb it.
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That film, released in 1991, examined the mystically linked lives and loves of two women, a Pole named Veronika and a Parisian named Veronique (both played by Jacob). Each woman at times feels a bond to another, unnameable being. Each is a singer, each appears to have a heart condition, each revels in artistic and erotic adventures, but they never meet. Then, eerily, the French Veronique accidentally takes a snapshot of her "Secret Sharer" in Krakow.
Devotees of Kieslowski's trilogy will see the parallels: Red, too, is filled with accidents large and small, and barely missed encounters.
"Yes," says Jacob. "True. Kieslowski is interested in the surprise of life. It does not give us everything--sometimes we have a very strong experience, and then it is over and life goes on. It is like acting: Playing a part, you hope for a transformation, you hope that it will change you. You take something from the wisdom of a story, and working with other people, you realize we are not independent at all. We are so much dependent on others to remember, to awaken things, to laugh or to cry. That is what it is to work with Kieslowski, and that is the story of Red...for the main character in the film is neither Valentine nor the judge. It is the relationship between them, their interaction. When we were shooting, Krzysztof would crouch as near as possible to Jean-Louis and me, watching first one, then the other, finding out what the tension was, what was at stake."
He was looking into Irene Jacob's face, but he may as well have been listening to Valentine's heartbeat--or his own.