DIRECTED BY: David Wnendt
FEATURING: Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski, Meret Becker, Axel Milberg
PLOT: A sexually precocious teen girl who is virulently anti-hygiene tries to seduce her male nurse when she is hospitalized with anal fissures.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Wetlands proudly advertises itself as “the most WTF, NSFW movie” of the year, and it is unique in that it’s the world’s first art-house gross-out romantic comedy. It’s worth a look for the way it blends cuteness and transgression with a peppering of magical realism moments, but it’s more provocative than weird in the end.
COMMENTS: I recently saw a Dutch study that came to the common-sense conclusion that sexual arousal overcomes feelings of disgust, allowing us to propagate the species despite the fact that the process of sexual intercourse involves a lot of foul smells and exchange of potentially deadly fluid-borne bacteria. So it’s no surprise that Wetlands makes its hemorrhoid-ridden heroine with the crusty panties a) horny and b) hot. Helen may be unhygienic, but thankfully she’s photogenic. A movie about a fat, homely girl who disdains hygiene and trades tampons with her best friend would be far harder to (forgive me) swallow.
There are more than a few softcore (and some pretty hardcore) sex scenes here, and graphic “ick” moments that will remind you of illustrated versions kinds of stories teenage boys like to swap in locker rooms to make each other gag. There are also a sprinkling of hallucinatory scenes to catch weirdophiles interest, anchored by the moment where an aroused Helen sees a tree sprouting from her vagina. Perhaps even more visually impressive is the opening credits’ psychedelic trip through the rainbow forest of microflora and fauna growing on a filthy public toilet bowl. Helen confesses that she “often mixes up reality, lies and dreams,” which calls into question some of her more extreme exploits, but her hallucinations are always psychologically revealing, and sometimes dead-on satirical (as in the fantasy where her mother faces her greatest fear—being struck by a bus while wearing a pair of dirty underwear).
Wetlands intends to challenge what it contends are our irrational prejudices about the uncleanliness of our own bodies. But in knowingly pushing the audience’s gross-out buttons, it sometimes perforates the wall of absurdity to the point where its legitimate message is lost. The pizza scene, in particular, seems like something that belongs in a Pink Flamingos sequel. The movie risks sweeping its argument about the irrationality of taboos away in a flood of menstrual blood, mucous, semen, and the miscellaneous fluids that pool on the floor of one particularly unhygienic public toilet. Wetlands is filled with womb and birth imagery that suggests that the process of becoming human is inescapably wet and smelly, and that perhaps we should embrace that reality as joyously as our heroine does. Yet, Helen confesses that she’s had herself secretly sterilized. The statement is made offhandedly, and maybe its one of the lies that Helen mixes up with truth, but it metaphorically cuts off the “life-affirming” reading. Still, although it might be a little thematically confused and try too hard to shock, Wetlands is bold and original in tone, and it boasts a brave and winning performance from Carla Juri (who convincingly captures the raunchy and rebellious charm of a free-spirited teenager despite being in her late twenties).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…an aesthetically amped-up affair, full of segmented screens, oversaturated colors, trippy special effects, and drugged-out flashbacks and dream sequences…”–Nick Schager, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)