Cocoon unfurls a butterfly in Kreuzberg

Lena Urzendowsky’s 14-year-old Romy grows into her new body and out of her shell over a summer in the heterogeneous Berlin district in Leonie Krippendorff’s vivid and fervent portrait of young romance.

Lena Urzendowsky as Romy with Jella Haase as Nora in Cocoon (Kokon, 2019)

▶︎ Cocoon is in UK cinemas and on BFI Player, Peccadillo Player and other streaming platforms from 11 December 2020.

From the beginning, Cocoon is simultaneously insular and far-reaching in its imagining of the many metamorphoses of a young woman, depicting teenage sexual desire and life in the city during one scorching summer in Berlin.

Leonie Krippendorff’s feature fixates on the singular experiences of its protagonist, the 14-year-old Nora (Lena Urzendowsky). Through a mix of intimate close shots, smartphone camera footage and over-the-shoulder angles, the film meanders through the everyday excitement of the Kotti neighbourhood in Kreuzberg in southern Berlin – an area known for its ethnic diversity, crime and vivacity – while remaining fixed on female transformation, biological, emotional and sexual. Nora’s fascination with caterpillars, which she keeps confined within a glass jar, mirrors the camera’s concern with her own transmutation from childhood to womanhood. As the caterpillars grow and change, so too does Nora’s perception of the world around her: at the beginning she is an outsider; by the end she is assured of her place in the world and her own sexuality.

Jella Haase as Romy and Lena Urzendowsky as Nora in Cocoon

During the hottest summer on record, Nora is forced to spend time in the school class of her older sister, Jule. After a mortifying incident involving Nora’s first experience of menstruation, she befriends an eccentric new student, Romy.

I have rarely seen such a realistic portrayal of the terrifying, antagonising experience of coming to terms with one’s own body during puberty, one that highlights female desire and fear at once, without lurid voyeurism. Romy is everything Nora is not: vibrant, outgoing, confident, carefree. As their friendship develops into a romance, the camera follows Nora closely as she drifts through the city, the beach, urban rooftops and bedrooms; Urzendowsky is outstanding, portraying the effervescent joy of youth and a fervent desire to hold onto the beauty in life’s fleeting moments.

The romance between Nora and Romy offers a fresh take on lesbian relationships centred on the female gaze, as desire is intertwined with the complexities of teenage development, self-discovery and the pressures of heteronormativity. These scenes of reckless youth are captured in luminous colour, imprinted on one’s memory, but they are short-lived. Still, Cocoon clings onto those memories as poignant remnants of individual rebirth, which are to be celebrated.