It’s summer in Berlin in 2018, and fourteen-year old Nora is about to experience the full ferocity of everything life can throw at a teenager. Including, but not limited to: drugs, periods, dip-dyed hair and heartbreak. Thanks to one fateful meeting with Romy, she also begins to explore her own sexuality.
I went in knowing very little about Cocoon and honestly I think that’s the best way to go. The description of Leonie Krippendorff’s debut film as “a raw and honest coming-of-age tale that every woman can relate to” was more than enough to draw me in, and after watching, I think it’s definitely fair to say this is an accurate description.
Lena Urzendowsky is brilliant as Nora. Whilst the camera physically follows Nora, it’s down to Urzendowsky that we emotionally follow this character too. The disappointment on her face when her sex-ed teacher tells her that she’s 14 and things change; in response to her question about finding girls attractive; the love she feels when she looks at Romy; the embarrassment when her period starts in gym class, and she only realises when her classmates start to laugh. Speaking of, Cocoon has my highest praise for its handling of periods that actually look like periods: messy, bloody and painful. It seems like such a small, insignificant thing, but I genuinely think this is the first time I’ve personally seen a period on-screen portrayed in such a real way. There’s no holding back for fear of ruining the aesthetic—we even see her trying to choose between pads and tampons.
Where the film falls short, unfortunately, is the lack of structure. There’s no clear aim or event that Cocoon is working towards, so it did lose my attention a few times. It feels more driven by artistic shots and scenery than narrative. So instead of a clear structure, the film acts out in a number of different sequences and life experiences that contribute to Nora’s growth, bursting from her cocoon into a free-spirited butterfly. As such, Cocoon is probably the most self-referential title the film could’ve had. We see Nora blossom over the 95 minute run-time into a young woman, breaking out into freedom like the caterpillars that escape her jar. Even the screen ratio changes throughout the film, expanding so subtly that blink, and you’ll miss it.
Men take a backseat in Cocoon. In fact, none of the main characters are male—so it’s important that the film gets the portrayal of female relationships right. And I honestly think they do, because none of the women in Cocoon are perfect by any means. They’re raw and rough-around-the-edges, because 90% of them are still young. Where Krippendorff could have easily fallen into the trap of just presenting them all as impressionable, social media obsessed and ignorant youths, she instead includes a variety of different cultures and backgrounds, all with different beliefs. Whilst one scene discussing teenage pregnancy makes the differences between classmates clear, it shows Krippendorff’s characters all have opinions—rather than just being vessels for teenage ignorance.
And ignorant is certainly something these characters can’t afford to be. With no father figure even mentioned, and a particularly absent mother, Nora and her older sister have to help bring each other up, constantly bickering and making up again. Where her sister is more interested in how to stay slim like models or get boys to notice her, Nora seems happier outdoors, exploring with Romy. But even Romy isn’t perfect, and so sure of herself and her sexuality, as Nora believes.
This all feels epitomised in “She” by Alice Phoebe Lou, a song featured in the film that seems to focus on the desire to escape (“She cut a hole in the fence and she ran / She left her troublesome prison behind”). And whilst Cocoon certainly isn’t a film of escapism by any means, the characters are constantly trying to escape their own stereotypes.
If you’re looking for reference points here, think one part Call Me By Your Name, one part Eighth Grade, one part Boyhood, and one part Lady Bird. But even then, I think you’re only halfway to successfully describing just what this film is. Leonie Krippendorff has done a great job with Cocoon—and I, for one, can’t wait to see what she does next.
Cocoon is a raw, unflinching and honest coming-of-age film, covering more in the span of 95 minutes than I think many other films can lay claim to. It might not be one to grasp your attention with big, bold set-pieces, but the effort you’ll put in watching is worth it.
Cocoon opens in cinemas and on demand on 11 December via Peccadillo Pictures.
Words by Harriet Metcalfe
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