KOKO-DI KOKO-DA (2019)
Written and Directed by Johannes Nyholm
Swedish language with English subtitles
Released exclusively to BFI player, Blu-ray and digital on 7th September 2020
A couple are traumatised after the unexpected death of their 7 year old child. Three years on from their daughter Maya’s death, the couple are at breaking point and decide to go away for a camping break however their trip isn’t the relaxing experience they envision when they find themselves trapped in what feels like an inescapable nightmare.
After the marvellous short film depicting his baby daughter trashing a bar, dressed as a middle-aged tourist, in his puppet-driven set of Las Palmas, Johannes Nyhlolm was not a name I was ever going to forget in a hurry. Fast-forward 8 years later and Nyholm has brought his artistic flair to the surreal, psychological drama KOKO-DI KOKO-DA, a harsh contrast to the light-humoured antics featured in his short film. A story about grief, KOKO-DI KOKO-DA takes you through a couple’s journey as they come face-to-face with the reality of their relationship after experiencing something as earth-shattering as that of losing a child.
The death of a child is never going to be one to easily depict on screen but Nyholm tastefully executes this despite the gut-wrenching emotion it emits. Utilising his puppeteering talents, Nyholm moves the story along with a poignant tale about a family of rabbits to reflect the hurt and loss the couple experience. This segment is quite beautiful to watch and conveys more than words could. A harsh snap back to reality (or not) is in store for the couple, however, which is where feelings finally come to a head.
When we meet the couple again after their daughter’s death, it quickly becomes evident that all is not well. Clearly the couple have issues which they seem unable to openly talk about, instead taking pot shots at one another. An argument about an ice-cream is a petty example of this. Husband Tobias is very ignorant to the fact that his wife Elin is hurting inside whilst he himself is trying to just get on with life by pushing away his feelings deep inside. Unfortunately, Elin cannot. In the three years after her daughter’s death, she’s become bitter and quick to snap, getting uppity about the ice-cream and the fact she’s never listened to when the crux of the matter is she hasn’t got over the death. Dealing with the grief in two different ways, alone even though they’re together, has driven them apart. Can a break away give them the time they need to reflect and fix their relationship?
In the opening scene, we see their daughter transfixed by a music box depicting three individuals: a hairy brute, a pig-tailed woman with a dog on a lead and an older gentleman wearing a cream suit and boater straw hat, complete with cane in hand, like something you’d see at a circus. The trio soon become the villains in a recurring nightmare that Tobias experiences. Upon needing to pee in the middle of the night, Tobias encourages Elin to do her business outside where she comes under attack by the trio who’s ringmaster whistles the Koko-di Koko-da tune. Tobias attempts to help her but he also finds himself at the mercy of the three strangers, with a ferocious dog to contend with and the threat of having his dick blown off. Waking up in a hot sweat, he finds himself back in the tent where Elin’s desperate to urinate and here we go through the cycle again and again, like Groundhog Day, with Tobias attempting to change the outcome every time but doing little to actually succeed. Each time he tries to escape the madness, he fails, however each replay brings him closer to protecting Elin. He must find a way to protect them both from the savage threat of death and destruction they both face from the hands of the strangers.
Whilst Tobias is stuck in his hell loop, his wife neglects to witness the three strangers in a negative light. Instead, she finds herself alone in the woods and spots a mystery white cat they encountered on their arrival to the woodland. She decides to follow the cat who leads her to a house in which the mysterious trio stage a silhouette puppetshow which truly displays the isolation the couple are experiencing and how the love and joy has been burned out of their relationship since the tragic death. Both are ultimately experiencing the same things, with the nightmare manifesting in a different way. The loss and hurt has driven them apart but to overcome this, they have to reconcile and to open themselves up to each other to properly grieve and love again, instead of being consumed by hate and anger at what life has dealt their once happy family unit.
KOKO-DI KOKO-DA is an unusual watch and isn’t exactly an enjoyable one to sit through due to the subject matter however the conclusion of the movie is tinged with relief, sadness and joy that I’m sure many viewers will be sympathetic to. The film is an interesting take on the idea of grief and the effect it can have on a family and is done in a thought-provoking way, even if a little peculiar on the surface. Through the different mediums displayed in the movie, the grief and emotions really hit home and you can begin to understand how crippling the world has become for Tobias and Elin, and, to an extension, anyone else who has suffered the similar.
KOKO-DI KOKO-DA is a poignant, heartfelt exploration of grief, relationships and emotion with a difference, with a style that Nyholm firmly makes his own.