The Generation section’s opening film at this year’s Berlinale is exactly the sort of fare you’d want from the sidebar: a smart, shrewdly observed coming-of-age story.
Set in Berlin, Leonie Krippendorff’s second feature in the director’s chair, after 2016’s Looping, follows Nora, who tags along at parties and Kreuzberg rooftop get-togethers, mingling with her older sister’s friends without ever really fitting in. Things change when she meets a kindred spirit, Romy, who seems to share her way of looking at the world.
Kokon doesn’t reinvent the template for coming-of-age films but does what it sets out to achieve. It’s a believable, finely-observed snapshot of a summer that explores the tricky crawlspace between girlhood and womanhood with endearing earnestness. It features some beautifully filmed shots of Kotti, as well as great central performances from Lena Urzendowsky and Lena Klenke. The writer-director has also shrewdly sidestepped mawkishness, with no melodramatics or rote histrionics to speak of; instead, Krippendorff ambitiously includes several strands about obsession with body image, the constant pressure to perform from an early age, as well as a poetically handled queer dimension to Nora’s story.
As well as making a queer love story, the filmmaker observes the multiculturalist community and attitudes which see characters obsessing over classmates of Turkish or Arabic backgrounds, and the “fashionable” cultural appropriation that at beckons one character to enquire: “Since when do you swear on the Koran?” While it’s a lot to address and certain plot strands can feel brushed aside at times, none of these elements feel overwritten, tokenistic or lean into easy stereotypes. That same lightness of touch might have been required regarding the recurring visual leitmotif of the caterpillar/ butterfly dichotomy, but as a whole, Kokon works as a gently empowering story about escaping peer pressure and finding your own way.
Kokon (Cocoon) / Directed by Leonie Krippendorff (Germany, 2020), with Lena Urzendowsky, Lena Klenke, Jella Haase. Starts August 13