A fresh exploration of female desire, this German drama by writer-director Leonie Krippendorff creates a remarkable sense of perspective, seeing the events through the eyes of a teen who is just discovering that she might not need to take the expected route through life. This means that Cocoon (Kokon) is a superbly involving depiction of how first love is often both confusing and exhilarating at the same time. It’s also bracingly emotional, carrying a strong visceral kick even as it feels fizzy and light.
The story’s set in a trendy Berlin neighbourhood, where 14-year-old Nora (Lena Urzendowsky) hangs out with her big sister Jule (Lena Klenke) and her best friend Aylin (Elina Vildnova). Since the other two are older and more overtly straight sexually, Nora remains quiet, going along with whatever crazy thing her friends drag her into. But now she’s beginning to realise that she doesn’t want to put up with their relentless obsessing about boys. Then one day, after she’s humiliated at school, offbeat classmate Romy (Jella Haase) rescues her. And as they begin a relationship, Nora develops a newfound confidence.
While the film has a boisterous, lively energy to it, there are deeper issues gurgling around for Nora, as she begins to discover who she is. The title refers to Nora’s collection of caterpillars, a rather heavy-handed metaphor for her later emergence as a strong queer woman. And indeed, she seems rather implausibly naive for a teenager, as if she has learned nothing at all about love or sex from her friends, family, school or pop culture. Thankfully, filmmaker Krippendorff never pushes this into being a coming-out movie, instead remaining focussed on Nora’s first experience with sexual attraction.
Urzendowsky gets this balance just right in her performance, making Nora a sparky teen who’s also mousey and thoughtful. She loves to have fun, but doesn’t have a great sense of humour. So it’s both engaging and moving to watch her begin to understand these new flickers of desire within herself. And this internalised approach provides plenty of weight to Nora’s dawning attraction to the much looser Romy, who is played by Haase with easy charisma. It’s clear early on where their relationship is going, but both actresses continually add surprising textures. And both Klenke and Aylin are terrific as older girls who seem to be super-cool, although now Nora is starting to notice their insecurities.
While the plot itself is rather slight, the film’s cinematography and editing make the most of each scene, pulling the audience in. This is a spirited depiction of adolescent abandon expressed over the course of a sweltering summer when there’s little to do but sunbathe, party and indulge in a bit of skinny dipping. So we feel Nora’s pain when the tone shifts into something rather intense, forcing her to grow up.
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Cocoon is now streaming on Peccadillo Player and other platforms