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  • Ben Turner

Cocoon ****


Starring: Lena Urzendowsky, Jella Haase, Lena Klenke, Elina Vildanova

Director: Leonie Krippendorff

Country: Germany


Having made waves at this year’s Iris Prize Festival, where it took home the awards for Best Feature Film and Best Performance by an Actress, Cocoon is finally out on general release from 11th December, courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures.


Nora (Urzendowsky) is fourteen, but spends all of her time with her older sister Jule (Klenke), who is popular, slim and beautiful. Living in her shadow, she is often the tagalong when Jule and her best friend (Vildanova) go to parties and hang out with the street-smart boys in their area of Berlin-Kreuzberg, floating between tower blocks in the scorching heat of the hottest summer on record. When Nora breaks her arm, she is unable to attend a canoeing trip with her own class, so she is temporarily placed in her sister’s form, much to the latter’s chagrin. But there, Nora meets Romy (Haase), a free-spirited girl who attracts her attention, not just because she’s the only person who’s friendly toward her.


Nora keeps caterpillars in her bedroom, which she rears to become butterflies, via those titular cocoons. This is, of course, a metaphor for her own burgeoning sexuality and teenagehood, which could only be more obvious if it was subtitled “THIS IS A METAPHOR” each time we watch a caterpillar chomping through a leaf. However, the director fully commits to this image, which gets a lot of airtime and actually makes for the film’s most artful shots.


Elsewhere, the influence of Nora’s mostly absent alcoholic mother looms large over them, especially as Jule brings home a baby simulator doll in an attempt to wrestle some attention away from her bottle of spirits. It’s easy to see why the girls wander the streets, because their mother has swapped motherhood for a perpetual cycle of daily hangovers. It’s telling, then, to see how the two sisters drift in opposite directions: Jule toward people that can only ruin her, Nora toward a girl that will bring her back to safety.


The romance between the Nora and Romy is sweet and befitting of two girls in their teens. Romy is saving Nora, even if neither of them realise it. The real crux of the story, however – and by far its most compelling strand – is the relationship between the two sisters, bristling with animosity, love and the meaningless bickering that only goes to show how much they care for each other. In a late scene, Jule vomits into her sister’s hands, who is trying to help her maintain dignity after drinking too much at a house party. If that’s not real sisterhood, I don’t know what is.


At times, this feels like two different films. Nora and Romy’s romance feels like Show Me Love, while the family scenes are like last year’s Consequences. It’s been a while since Germany produced a strong LGBT+ movie, but this is probably its best offering since the legendary Free Fall. Edgy, slick but wide-eyed, this is a whimsical romance played against the salacious calamity of teenagehood.


UK RELEASE: 11TH DECEMBER 2020 ON DVD AND ON DEMAND, RELEASED BY PECCADILLO PICTURES.

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#Cocoon