The coming-of-age genre will have as many variations as there are growing pains. Leonie Krippendorf’s Berlin-set drama takes the messiness and mistakes inherent in such films —and times of life— and captures both their magic and their unfiltered nastiness. Cocoon follows Nora (Lena Urzendowsky), a shy fourteen-year-old growing up in Berlin’s Kottbusser Tor neighbourhood. She starts her summer raising caterpillars by herself in her small room and quietly tagging along as her older sister and her friends live their lives loudly and brashly, documenting every growing chrysalis and raunchy song through her phone. After an injury at such a party, Nora ends up stuck even closer under her sister’s eye, and she meets Romy (Jella Haase), the new girl in the older class. Their summer love affair may not be built to last — but like the butterflies hatching in Nora’s room, the teenage protagonist begins to come into her own.
Krippendorff’s second feature film centres heavily around the titular imagery, but neither the metaphor nor the narrative feels forced. This is helped by the balance Cocoon strikes between the dream-like and the gross, capturing what Nora wants her teenage years to be as well as the mortifying ordeals of reality. The film never shies away from the latter. Nora’s injured hand is not life threatening, but her pain and panic are captured in fast-moving close-ups. Later, Nora very publicly gets her first period and the panic becomes much more silent, captured in minute and oppressive detail as the camera does not mirror her internal panic. But this embarrassment forms the basis of her first conversation with Romy, and their subsequent summer romance arising from one of the most unpleasant and unnerving aspects of growing up celebrates the dichotomies of her teenage experience.
Krippendorff’s script leaves the relationship between Nora and Romy open to some interpretation. Nora’s initial infatuation and growing affection for the new girl are achingly real —largely due to Urzendowsky’s open-hearted performance— and Romy’s care comes across as similarly genuine as their love blossoms. However, much of the relationship is shot through a hazy, starry-eyed gaze, as if the imaginings of the perfect lesbian awakening and first love instead of its realities. This puts some distance between the (at least temporarily) happy couple and the viewers, but also creates a devastating crash back to reality when their mismatched ambitions and needs inevitably clash. Additionally, with so much of this film seen through Nora’s lens, this romanticised distance can be read as her own idea of events rather than the harsher reality that intrudes at so many other points. This ambiguity may be underdeveloped, but it marks Krippendorff as a storyteller with immense empathy for her subjects.
Cocoon’s sense of place and perspective demonstrate Krippendorff’s artistic and storytelling confidence. Berlin’s Kottbusser Tor neighbourhood, where much of the film was shot on location, is as much a character as Nora’s group of friends. Additionally, the film opens with shots from Nora’s camera phone, as she follows her louder and older friends’ brash actions. Her video diaries and documents are folded into the story, proving an integral, almost-documentary look at her and her friends’ lives. Krippendorff makes the bold decision towards the film’s midway point to switch to a wider format as Nora’s world opens before her. It is an artistic choice that will likely read better during Cocoon’s cinema run than its VOD release, but Nora’s almost imperceptible growth and confidence fills this larger frame naturally.
by Carmen Paddock
Carmen is an American living in Scotland. She holds a Masters in International Film Business from the University of Exeter / London Film School, and while now working in technology she keeps her love of film alive through overenthusiastic writing and an unhealthy amount of time spent at the cinema. Favourite films include West Side Story, 10 Things I Hate About You, Ever After, and Thor: Ragnarok. Follow her on Twitter @CarmenChloie