The poster boasts that Wetlands is: “The most WTF, NSFW film at this year’s Sundance film festival” and they aren’t exaggerating, David Wnendt’s adaptation of the homonymous bestseller by Charlotte Roche is everything but a family film. After its premiere at the Locarno Film Festival in August 2013, it is receiving a deserved fresh interest after its U.S release and knock about in the festival circuit. And yes, Wetlands refers to the moisture of lady parts, let’s take that out of the way.
Helen Memel (Carla Juri) is our dysfunctional 18 year old tomboy protagonist that has little regard for personal hygiene, suffers from hemorrhoids and has a peculiar sex drive that includes experimenting with vegetables in a filthy bathtub. Helen’s hobbies include planting avocados, scheming to reunite her divorced parents, destroying the tampon industry by using her homemade versions and, of course, attracting boys with her natural odor and, er, taste. Helen has a best friend, Corinne, that also engages in some unusual sexual practices with her boyfriends (do not despair, the camera cuts before we are forced to watch). After an unfortunate session of personal grooming, Helen lands in the hospital with an anal fissure and tries by all means to use her little problem as a way to get her parents together once and for all. In the meantime, there will be some time to seduce nurse Robin with some dirty tales…
Wetlands succeeds in shocking an audience that nowadays is used to almost anything to be played to them on the big screen. But the true geniality of the film lies on the fact that though all taboos are broken (and no matter how open-minded you are, I can assure you there will be something at some point that will turn your stomach), it never comes across as vulgar. This is mostly due to Carla Juri’s powerful performance, that delivers the right mix of teenage angst, slutty talk and a straightforwardness about things that has a disconcerting scent of innocence. Helen is indeed the most unusual female protagonist we ever seen in a film, but apart from her little hygiene extravagances, she is still a relatable character, looking for love in all the wrong places, in a very funny, sweet and sexually graphic coming-of-age story. She even has her own childhood trauma, though we are not sure if it actually happens because, you know, very unreliable narrator.
As the film starts mocking the “unfilmable” character of the book, people that know both are quick to applaud the superior character of Wnendt’s tour de force. Some call it the German Trainspotting, mostly because of the superb way it is filmed by cinematographer Jakub Bejnarowicz – with crazy angles, surreal dream sequences and – everyone has to mention this at some point reviewing this film – the most disgustingly beautiful scene of the whole lot, played in slow-motion to Strauss’s The Blue Danube (little spoiler – it involves pizza).
Going between the surreal, the unexpected and the just plain gross, Wetlands is refreshing at so many levels that it is a sin to let it go into oblivion without the deserved coverage. Go on, go watch it. It will be on VOD very soon. Just… don’t watch while eating, ok? And no pizza before. Trust me on that one.