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.
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.
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