Berlin, Kreuzberg. Summer 2018 during the most intense heatwave ever (I guess that should read “so far”). Nora (Lena Urzendowsky ) is 14 and looks even younger, more fragile. Her mother is usually off on an alcoholic binge, so Nora spends most of her time with her older sister Jule and Jule’s BFF Aylin. She shares a room with Jule, who is always worried that Nora’s caterpillars will make an escape.
Much of the film consists of the day-to-day blandness of school life. The lads try to be cool and rap about being drug dealers with big cars. The girls try to get off with the lads. Everyone plays with their phones. They all make deep promises, emphasizing their sincerity by saying “I swear on the Koran” (yes, even the blonde Biodeutsche).
A new girl arrives at school, Romy (Jella Haase, fresh from Berliner Alexanderplatz). Romy has short dyed hair, paints her fingernails and wears a hat and a T-shirt with the slogan “Raise Boys & Girls Alike”. When Nora has her first period, it’s Romy who helps her out. Soon, when Nora is invited by a teacher if there’s anything specific on her mind, she’s asking whether its normal to find girls better looking than boys.
Nora starts spending less time with Jule and Aylin. When Romy sends her a text message asking if she wants to break into the open air swimming baths and go skinny dipping, her face shows elation. When Romy turns up at the baths with a couple of lads in tow, Nora’s face sinks to an equal degree. But security arrive, they all rush away naked, and suddenly Nora and Jule are back at Romy’s place alone (apart from Romy’s liberal mother who pops in for a chat).
Its not long before Nora and Romy are spending all their time together, kissing, and even joyously attending a Pride march. This leads up to a sweet balcony scene where one of the lads tries to get off with Nora. When she refuses, he asks if she likes him. “Sure”, she says, “but I’m in love with someone else”. Who? “Romy. Does that make me a lesbian”, she asks, genuinely unsure about the answer. “I don’t know”, he says, “but I think that’s cool”.
This is a scene that could have been handled crassly and embarrassingly, especially given the youth of the actors. But somehow it all rings true. Realising that he’s not going to get any further, the lad – as it happens someone from what is known round here as a “Muslim background” – slinks off, but there is no sense of bitterness or homophobia. It is a scene whose authenticity gives you a heap of hope for the next generation.
If that were it, Kokon would be a worthy and intelligent film. But this is where the film chooses to twist the knife. Nora, at her most hopeful, is dressed as a spangly unicorn, but then encounters something she really does not want to see. Before she gets the chance to process it, Aylin drags her to the bathroom where Jule has taken too many drugs and drink but Aylin is too out of it to help.
Kokon is a film about love and regret, about hope and thwarted dreams. It shows that we should aim for the stars, but also that it’s not going to be an easy journey. But – and in one sense this is almost incidental – it is also about the working class young lesbians, who are so badly represented in popular culture. It neither elevates Nora to a perfect being with a perfect life, nor suggests that her problems are qualitatively different to ours.
Maybe I’ve just seen too many films about sad gay people, that its just a relief to watch someone who is capably dealing with her sexuality. And one of the many enjoyable parts of the film is that Nora is still growing up – this story is by no means over. It’s a lovely snapshot of someone at a specific part of her life, which has you willing them on towards greater happiness.
I’m not sure how far Kokon will be allowed to travel, but if it finds itself your way, do give it a go.