REVIEW: ‘Cocoon’ (2020) is Worthy of its Golden Glow

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Krippendorff crafts a stunningly alluring narrative of feminine intimacy

Cocoon (Kokon) is a triumph on the brink of womanhood: a searing portrait of young queerness centred around the lesbian awakening of fourteen-year-old Nora (Jena Urzendowaky). In the sizzling heat of Berlin’s 2018 summer, Nora has many firsts: menstruation, masturbation and smoking marijuana. Yet the core self-discovery of Nora’s sexuality is that which Cocoon centres.

Her summer consists of days in the company of her older sister Jule (Lena Klenke), and Aylin (Elina Vildanova), Jule’s best friend. Nora searches for shade while the other two young women eye up shirtless men, all of whom Nora gazes past to focus on Romy (Jella Haase), the new student with a pixie cut and bold, androgynous fashion.

Although entranced by the transformation of the caterpillars in jars by her bedside, Nora cannot make sense of the butterflies she feels when with Romy. Cocoon is Nora’s emergence from her chrysalis as she embarks on a voyage of adolescence. Writer-director Leonie Krippendorff captures the intensity of these intimacies, where rubbing sun cream into another woman’s skin is like trailing her fingertips through burning embers, her feather-light touch is incisively daring. The warm tones of Berlin’s streetlamp cast a muted orange hue onto the skin of Cocoon’s women. This golden glow is amplified when Nora and Romy are together, through the giddy gaze of teenage infatuation everything is more magical. Romy welcomes Nora into a space of queer ecstasy, where rays of sunlight eliminate any shadows. There is no space for darkness here, no antagonists either, just the growing pains of youth to contend with.

Nora, with brown hair and a fringe in a multicoloured shirt stares at Romy, waring a black beanie and maroon t shirt
Image courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures

Krippendorff renders this queer coming-of-age narrative through a compassionate lens. In the absence of men, she develops a cinematic space where Nora is both respected and given the room to flourish. Nora even has the right of passage haircut that a young gay woman often undergoes to mark a fresh start. Also, costume designer Ramona Petersen fashions some wonderful queer looks where Nora finds a home in oversized patterned shirts.

Even the small inclusion of menstrual blood feels revolutionary. Horrified by her first period, Nora locks herself in a bathroom stall and furiously dabs at her stained underwear. The camera is empathetic to Nora’s experiences, and Jena Urzendowaky’s emotionally astute performance wonderfully depicts the turbulence of young womanhood and the intensity of her desires. Beside her in this utopic space of lesbian expression is the magnetic Romy, whose gaze feels hotter than Berlin’s hottest summer and who will unquestioningly wash menstrual blood from her jeans.

With her contemplative glances, Nora studiously thumbs through the pages of Judith Butler’s Bodies That Matter in a quiet moment around the breakfast table with her mother and sister. Krippendorff crafts a stunningly alluring narrative of feminine intimacy and young lesbianism with earnest sincerity. Cocoon’s unyielding focus is on the women it surrounds itself with and the sunkissed film is all the better for it.

Dir: Leonie Krippendorff

Prod: Jost Hering, Jörg Schneider

Cast: Jena Urzendowaky, Jella Haase, Elina Vildanova

Release date: December 11

Header image courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures