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Coming of Age in Cocoon (2020)

Words by Gillian Coyne

Historically, film festivals have been more of a welcoming space than Hollywood for films with LGBTQIA+ topics, whether at big-name festivals like Cannes, Sundance, and Venice, or more obviously, at queer festivals like Fringe! in London, Frameline in San Francisco, or Rainbow Reel in Tokyo. The 2020 Berlinale was no exception. Award winners at the Berlin International Film Festival receive the iconic Golden Bear or Silver Bears, but there also exists the Teddy Award. This award is given to an LGBTQ+ film in one of the categories of feature, documentary, short, jury’s selection, reader’s choice, and activist. This year, 41 films deemed LGBTQ+ by an independent jury were up for the award, including scriptwriter and director Leonie Krippendorff’s newest coming-of-age feature.


At first glance Kokon (in English: Cocoon) may seem like a German rendition of the French hit festival film Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013) directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. But make no mistake, Cocoon establishes itself as a film interested in far more than a sexual awakening. Cocoon was selected as the premier film for the Generation 14Plus competition program of the Berlinale. This category features “coming-of-age-stories: awesome, wild and angry, heartfelt and headstrong” according to the program’s page. Cocoon couldn’t fit this category any more perfectly as it chronicles the sweltering summer of 2018 in Berlin through the eyes of fourteen-year-old Nora (Lena Urzendowsky).



Seen by her sister Jule (Anna Lena Klenke) and Jule’s best friend Aylin (Elina Vildanova) as a wallflower and tag-along younger sister, Nora spends the hottest summer in Berlin’s recorded history dealing with the mortifying stains of her first period, navigating complex family ties, tentatively exploring her sexuality for the first time, and most importantly, discovering who she is. The film opens with a dreamy synth soundtrack and a sequence that seems to have been shot on an iPhone as two teenage girls draw a penis on a homeless man’s face. The golden, light-saturated frame radiates the heat of the summer. The girls’ screams of delight and the thrill of their recklessness as they run away from the now-awakened man are drowned out by Nora’s voiceover and the beginning of the soundtrack. Nora places viewers in her corner of the world, Kottbusser Tor, as the montage increases speed to show a neighborhood that is distinctly Berlin. As the camera comes to focus on Nora, she is watching the video from the film’s opening on her phone. While Jule and Aylin are the action, she is the onlooker, the occasionally resistant participant, who they see as the ideal assistant for their shenanigans.



While this setup seems straightforward at first, Krippendorff complicates the simple tag-along younger sister trope by gradually revealing the absence of Nora and Jule’s alcoholic mother (played by Anja Schneider), most notably when they have to go to the hospital for Nora’s broken hand. As it turns out, Jule depends Nora for emotional support just as much as Nora needs her for socializing. Even though Jule is primarily concerned with getting the attention of her crush David, posting on social media, and partying with her friends (with Nora in tow), her protective instincts jump out occasionally. She isn’t entirely reckless teenager in the same way she isn’t entirely maternal older sister. Likewise, it is Nora who holds her older sister when their mother abandons Jule’s take-home baby from health class. Through a torrent of tears, Jule explains that she thought that maybe having a grandchild - even just a hypothetical one - would get their mother to drink less. Twice during the film, both Jule and Nora turn to YouTube for life advice for topics that their mother could have provided some guidance or parental wisdom for. Krippendorff explores this oscillating relationship as the sisters gracefully fend for themselves and protect each other while getting wrapped up in their own love interests.