The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Veronique is a hard coconut to crack

with 15 comments

Some movies are like coconuts: hard to open but rewarding if you finally manage to get through.

As I sat down to write about The Double Life of Veronique, a song by the Swedish artist Povel Ramel about his coconut opening endeavors came to my mind. It’s a very long song and the rough translation doesn’t make justice to the original rhymed verses, but here’s a sample to give you an idea:

“Father, I can’t open my coconut/All the ways I’ve tried have been wrong/I chopped with my little axe until I went numb/The table got indentations, the parquet floor broke/ But the nut is intact

Father, I can’t open my coconut/Not even with hammer and nail/Every wall now has small holes here and there/Solely the coconut remains the same”

I felt a bit of that frustration. There clearly was something in there, but oh, how to get to it? As opposed to Povel I managed to at least scratch my coconut.

At the surface it was a movie that contained two stories, both about a woman with an interest and talent for music, one called Weronika, living in Poland, the other called Veronique, living in France. There were similarities in their life circumstances, and they looked the same (played by the same actress), but there were also differences in what kind of life they led.

I even made a hole in the shell that was big enough for me to sip a little of the juice inside. I could tell as much as that the music was astonishingly beautiful, bringing tears into my eyes. And there was something about the cinematography, the colors and the repeated images of glass and mirrors in different forms that spoke to me. It sort of soothened my mind. There was a joyful melancholy in the atmosphere.

But what did it mean? What did the inside look like? I had no idea. After one viewing this was beyond my reach. I wouldn’t be able to explain to someone what the movie was supposed to show. I was pretty certain that there was a lot of symbolism at play, hidden clues to the riddles that I had overlooked.

Coconut strategies
You can react to coconut movies in different ways. One is to get annoyed. I could have blamed Kieslowski for being pretentious and incomprehensible and accuse people celebrating him for being sissies who don’t dare to say that they don’t “get it”.  I could also get annoyed at myself for being such an idiot compared to everyone else. That’s how I often react. You can’t miss out a good opportunity to pick on yourself, can you?

But there is another option. Rather than cursing the coconut you can look around see if there’s someone else who has a proper tool and some experience in coconut opening who is willing to help you to make a crack in the hard shell. Maybe you can’t open it completely after a first time watching, but at least you can make an opening wide enough for you to taste a sample of the white stuff inside.

In the case of The Double Life of Veronique, that’s what I did. I looked around and spotted a review by Steve at Just Another Movie Blog, who is better than I am at understanding and embracing movies that don’t use traditional storytelling. And if I understand him right, the movie shows two approaches to life, where one stresses the spirit and art for the sake of art and the other one is more down to Earth, grounded in the flesh. But too much of spirit and too little flesh can make you ill eventually, which is what happens to one of the Veronicas. She’s so connected to the heavens that she gets a hard time living on Earth.

With Steve’s explanation I can also better understand the final image, Veronique touching a tree, which didn’t make much sense to me as I watched the movie.

Coconut secrets
Steve helped me make a crack into the coconut, but there’s still stuff inside that I can’t reach for the time being. Coconut secrets. For instance there’s a story about a puppeteer that I don’t fully grasp. Veronique falls in love with him at first sight and then starts a little cat-and-rat chase that reminds me a little of Amélie. Eventually they meet and he tells her that this staging was made as a part of his research for his next book. She (rightfully) gets devastated for being used that way. But their relationship goes on, and the course it took left me quite confused and unsatisfied. I get as much as that it probably says something very deep and insightful about arts and artists. But what? I have no idea.

There’s a card game in Sweden called “It’s in the lake” where, you ask your opponents for cards that you’re collecting and when they don’t have the card you’re asking for, they say: “it’s in the lake” and you get to pick up a card from the ones that are on the table, “the lake”.

And that’s what I eventually will have to say, shrugging my shoulders:

“It’s in the lake”. Or to be more precise: in the coconut.

The double life of Veronique (La double vie de Véronique, Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1991)  My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

December 1, 2011 at 1:00 am

15 Responses

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  1. When I first saw the film some years ago after having seen the Trois Couleurs trilogy. I was a bit underwhelmed by it. Then I found out that the version I saw was a very poor print with the U.S. ending. When it came out on Criterion, I saw it again with its original ending and fell in love with it. Kieslowski is a filmmaker I want to explore more because I think he is an interesting individual with lots to say and the DVD extras that features him talking and such are always worth watching.

    Steven Flores

    December 1, 2011 at 1:43 am

    • I didn’t know there were different endings of this one. I can really imagine it would help to have some comments from himself, helping me to understand a bit more about the intentions.

      As of the cinematography I really can’t complain of anything. I was fortunate enough to watch it in a theatre. The small, independent cinema in our city showed it one-time-only as a part of their anniversary celebrations. I grabbed the chance.


      December 1, 2011 at 8:02 am

  2. My experience with this coconut was pretty much the same as Povel Ramel’s. I tried and I tried and I tried to open it, but it remained the same. Eventually, I said: “No, why am I doing this? This coconut doesn’t want me to open it. It’s probably a bad-tasting coconut anyway. I don’t even like coconut!”. And then I went back to eating watermelon instead. Sour grapes were in effect, of course.

    I did not like the film because I couldn’t understand it. Scene by scene, things just happened that I couldn’t grasp the meaning of. Even reading what others had to say about afterwards it didn’t help, because they were describing emotions and thoughts that never struck me when I watched it. I can’t judge a film based on what it gave others but not me, so I ended up giving it a low score. That doesn’t mean I found it bad, just that I didn’t like it.

    Very nice review, though. Keep up the great work!


    December 1, 2011 at 10:14 am

    • Thank you Emil! Like you I was pretty clueless about what was going on, but at least I could enjoy the cinematography and music. I also was helped a bit by reading the interpratations by others. But I can’t fully embrace it unless I can taste a bit more of what’s inside the coconut. I don’t think it’s rotten. It’s just difficult to access.


      December 1, 2011 at 11:05 am

  3. There are few movies I understand completely, movies where every scene make sense to me.
    Most are ‘coconuts’ to me. My approach is similar to yours, though not exactly: sometimes I do read reviews (after the movie) to understand it better. But not that often: movie shouldn’t require additional explanation. Everything director want to say should be inside.

    Usually I just leave movie for later. Sometimes it open to me after a month or so. Sometimes it remain closed (and I still respect the movie, just putting a label ‘not for me’ on it). Sometimes I get just small pieces of the movie, but they still might worse it.

    “The double life of Veronique” stay closed to me. I still do not get it. But since I really enjoy Kieslowski early movies, I hope that one day I’ll understand what this movie is about. I read somewhere that it’s about everything being double-sided, but I do not see it myself.

    There are movies you enjoy while you watch them, but forget just after the end. There are movies that you start to enjoy months after you watch them.


    December 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    • That sounds hopeful! Perhaps the coconut will open to me months from now if I just leave it alone for a while? Here’s to the hope that this will happen!


      December 1, 2011 at 12:47 pm

  4. Isn’t Preisner simply a genious movie score composer?! I quite liked this movie, but admittedly it was quite a few years since I saw it. I’m almost afraid to revisit it, since this is a kind of movie that I usually don’t like.


    December 1, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    • Maybe you should stay away then, letting it remain a beautiful memory?

      For my own part I’m not scared away from trying more coconuts, even if they’re hard to crack. I’ve got the blue-white-red trilogy to give a try at some point, when I feel that I’m up for an intellectual challenge.


      December 1, 2011 at 4:37 pm

      • Perhaps I should. I revisited the trilogy a couple of years ago and it was definitely not the awe inspiring experience that I remembered. Didn’t even have the stamina to finish Red. But admittedly, White had gained in strength — you win some, you lose some…


        December 8, 2011 at 6:13 am

        • I hesitate a little. It’s not something I put on after a day of work. Perhaps I can pull myself together and do it during the holidays.


          December 8, 2011 at 10:14 am

  5. This is one of my all time favorite films. Like life I don’t think we are meant to truly understand it but that doesn’t detract from its beauty and power. I just get a strong sense of magic and wonder every time I watch it and that to me is more important than anything else.

    By the way we have that same card game in North America and it is called “Go Fish”

    Bonjour Tristesse

    December 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    • Card games don’t care about borders, do they?

      I’m afraid it wasn’t quite as magical to me; it won’t end up on my top 100 list. But I could appreciate the beauty of it, even if I had troubles to understand it.


      December 2, 2011 at 4:54 pm

  6. THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE is among my twenty favourite film’s of all time. Krzysztof Kieslowski is by far my favorite director of all time. If you ever happen across ANY of his films, I strongly suggest you watch them. His Three Colours trilogy, for one, is a masterpiece that’s indescribably beautiful. VERONIQUE can be a coconut at times, but if you think about the film and let it rest in your mind for a few days, you’ll eventually break through to the creamy, milky centre.


    December 4, 2011 at 5:18 am

    • I actually own the three colours trilogy; I bought it at a bargain price a little while ago. I will have to recharge my motivation for coconut cracking first though so I won’t get scared away by the hard shell…


      December 4, 2011 at 9:23 pm

  7. […] out what is happening at times.  Here is a link to a blog which discusses this interesting film: Share this:TwitterFacebookMorePrintEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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