Interview with Leonie Krippendorff, writer and director behind new queer film
Cocoon is the impressive second feature from Berlin-based writer and director Leonie Krippendorff. A true depiction of the trials and triumphs of female adolescence, it’s an honest and tender coming-of-age tale that every woman can relate to.
When timid Nora meets the outgoing Romy, she suddenly feels trapped in her own skin, and she starts to recognise her true self. She can’t stay in her cocoon forever. Sooner or later she has to show the world who she really is.
Starring newcomers Lena Urzendowaky (Nora) and Jella Haase (Romy), Cocoon is proving itself to be one of the most important queer films of 2020 with an Iris Prize win already under its belt.
When did the writing process begin for Cocoon?
That process started four years ago. The first thing that came to my mind was the scene between Nora and Romy when they are in the toilet after she gets her period for the first time at school. I thought it would be beautiful for two girls to meet like this – where Romy has no fear washing out blood from Nora’s pants.
I wrote it because I was missing a coming of age film that told topics like getting your period, or the transformation of your body. I found it very disturbing as a teenager because I didn’t know what was happening,
Is it set in the same area where you grew up too? The film has a really strong sense of place.
At first it was a story set in the countryside. I grew up in Berlin and I was fascinated by growing up in the countryside. But I felt like I was falling into clichés, and I couldn’t really tell so much about the world.
I decided to set it in Kottbusser Tor. I didn’t grow up there directly, but I’ve spent a lot time there. That made so much sense because I knew what I was telling the story about. It’s such a unique place. It’s so vibrant and so multicultural.
We did a big street casting, nearly all of the male characters you see, the boys in school with Nora, they grew up in the building where we shot or very close by. They know the world really well. It was important for me to have this collective of young people who knew the world who could say what was realistic or what topics should be explored.
It’s a big job to take on the role of writer and director – did you ever have any doubts about that?
I knew that I wanted to direct it. It’s such an interesting transformation, this vision of the script in front of you, and then to see how you actually transform it into something that is really happening in front of you. I had loads of insecurities about being a director but I enjoyed the process.
I had a strange feeling just from seeing Lena’s photos that she would play Nora. I was so in love with her face – it’s so intense and I could read so much from it.
I invited her to the casting with Jella who plays Romy, but I was afraid there would be too much of an age gap. I was so amazed and I could just believe that they were in love when I saw them together. I really wanted to create a teenage love that was believable and touching.
Do you think you have many similarities or differences with the character of Nora?
Definitely. I wasn’t that way at Nora’s age – I needed way longer to figure out who I am. I found it beautiful to have a character that seems to be so quiet and shy in the beginning of the film, but then develops into something so strong.
It was interesting to see the digital aspects of growing up playing a part in this coming of age story – how does this differ from your own experience growing up?
I grew up without social media, I still don’t have social media personally now, so I was a bit lost with that topic. I also knew that if I want to tell a modern story about youth, of course, that must be an element of it.
It’s very different with the constant visibility that you have now when you’re young, because of social media, but the conflicts stay the same.
For Nora, it was important to have the video diary element so that we could see the world being told through her eyes. Everything around her is so loud and vibrant.
What roadblocks did you face making the film?
Financing was hard, and we didn’t have a lot of money. We were limited in many ways and it wasn’t a comfortable situation.
What is always the most difficult thing for me, is that the normal things in life are the most touching in a film. Sometimes you have to fight for those scenes, for example when Nora is washing out the blood from her pants in the middle of the night. All those situations that don’t seem so exciting but you have to fight for those scenes if they’re important to you.
What has the reaction been like to the film so far? I know it had a lot of success at Iris prize.
I’m really thankful because I feel like the film is being seen in a way that I meant it to be. You never really know if that will happen. Critics can be pretty brutal.
There have been a couple of not so enthusiastic critics, but most of the critics have been very emotional and I felt very understood. It feels so nice if people are enthusiastic about something that you really wanted to make. People all over the world are seeing this film now. In every country, it means something different.
It’s also exciting to see that there are people reacting to the film that I didn’t expect would react. All the straight men have been very touched by Nora and seen their younger selves so much in this character. In the end, we are all the same, and we all carry around the same insecurities and have to overcome them.
Cocoon is coming to cinemas and streaming online from 11 December.Divamag
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