Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Leonie Krippendorff

Who would be 14 again! Having to deal with a changing body, confusing hormones and peer pressure, while finding love and fitting in feel like the most important things in the world. All of this is captured with sensitivity by Leonie Krippendorff’s new film Cocoon available via video on demand from 11 December, as two sisters navigate the social pitfalls of a long hot summer in Berlin.

Unable to attend a school trip due to a broken hand, Nora is temporarily placed into her older sister’s class and becomes embroiled in her friendship group where she is forced to sit on the side lines of parties and outings while Jule sometimes resents her presence. Soon, the arrival of a new girl, Romy, awakens different emotions in Nora which she spends the summer trying to reconcile.

Krippendorff’s movie has a fairly typical coming-of-age plot in which a young girl explores her sexuality as bodily changes expose her to new questions about her identity and interests. But what sets Cocoon apart are the various ways in which Krippendorff frames her story, an urban experience set in a low-income multicultural neighbourhood where parentless teenagers are left to fend for themselves.

Nora and Jule have an alcoholic mother who would rather spend time in the local bar than notice the needs of her children who must take care of each other. When the optimistic Jule agrees to take care of a baby simulation doll, the fragile hope that a grandchild of sorts will lure their mother home is dashed, but Krippendorff eschews scenes of comedy drunkenness, instead focusing on the girls’ experience of neglect.

The film is also peppered with the wider influence and pressure that the media and rap music place on young girls, and the audience is shown various discussions about losing weight by eating cotton wool soaked in orange juice or hearing the vlogs that Jule spends time listening to with advice on finding boyfriends or performing sexualised dance moves at parties to please the boys in the group. Nora and Jules, Krippendorff implies, are left to learn about the world from Internet strangers with no one guiding them safely through some of the most formative experiences.

There is also a visual honesty in Cocoon in which the sometimes embarrassing experiences of teenage girls are openly represented. When Nora has her first period and a very public leak Krippendorff shows it without ceremony or melodrama – still a rare sight on screen – and while it facilitates the character’s first meeting with Romy, there is a refreshing normality about how these events are portrayed.

Krippendorff makes the central love story a little too wistfully romantic with a montage of languid scenes as the couple go skinny dipping, joyfully attend a pride parade and lay together in sunny fields that contrasts awkwardly with the urban energy of the rest of the film. And, at just fourteen, the Writer / Director is careful to avoid any scenes of the heroine having sex with Romy but the implication is a little icky especially with several scenes of nudity and acts of masturbation.

Lena Urzendowsky strikes the right balance as Nora, an uncertain outsider who says very little but seems to feel out of place and awkward at every moment. As love and attention free her, Urzendowsky becomes physically open and more relaxed as Nora experiences heartbreak before starting to find her own path. There is good support from Lena Klenke as 16-year old Jule already swept up in compliance with her gang but still craving guidance from her mother and sister, while Jella Haase gives Romy plenty of free-spirited cool that makes the character so inspiring to Nora.

The caterpillar to butterfly metaphor is a little heavy-handed but Krippendorff recognisably charts Nora’s painful transition from child to young woman while capturing the heat of the summer in a dense city environment that shapes the raging hormones and pressures felt by the characters as they navigate the highs and lows of first love while barely knowing who they are – who would be 14 again!

Released on 11 December 2020

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The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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