The American sex comedy is currently in dire straits, often focusing too much attention on the gross-out mechanics, and the studio-mandated reflective morality, to ever say anything substantial. Recent American cinema’s most hilariously accurate depictions of sexuality haven’t been from sex comedies at all, as films like Bobcat Goldthwait’s “World’s Greatest Dad” say more about the aberrancy of adolescent sex than any “American Pie” movie ever could.
But along comes “Wetlands,” a German adaptation of the eponymous, semi-autobiographical novel by Charlotte Roche that threatens not only to assume its position as the greatest teen sex comedy in history, but to assume many positions involving distorted limbs and various household cleaning products. Helen (Carla Juri) is an 18-year-old nymphomaniac with a predilection for natural odors. Refusing to bathe regularly or maintain any sort of hygienic routine beyond the basic necessities, Helen purposefully devotes herself to the most disgusting behaviors known to man.
Having endured anal hemorrhoids her entire life, Helen is rushed to the hospital when one of her shaving routines ends in an anal fissure, forcing a group of surgeons to perform an impromptu operation to sew it shut. Though the operation is successful, Helen is not allowed to leave until she passes a bowel movement. Using her hospitalization as a way to reunite her parents, who have been separated for nearly a decade, Helen does everything in her power to hide the bowel movements from Robin (Christoph Letkowski), a male nurse whom Helen finds herself falling for, and Dr. Notz (Edgar Selge), the hospital’s head physician.
Before I go any further, I’d like to reiterate something that I really just can’t stress enough. If you value your sanity, your adherence to upstanding morals, and your affinity for relatively harmless viewing, I advise you to stop reading this article, avoid watching this film, and possibly, if your financial situation permits, burn your computer. “Wetlands” is the type of film that requires some prior knowledge before going in. Not too much, because the shock value is often half the fun, but enough to know whether or not watching the film will be a huge mistake.
However, for the most daring cinephiles, the ones always chasing that which cannot be defined, “Wetlands” may be the movie you’ve been waiting for. Anchored by one of the year’s best performances, “Wetlands” may be the only film to graphically depict masturbation, menstruation, ejaculation, and consummation with enough time to properly execute an extremely well-earned emotional payoff. Taking the novel’s best moments and framing them in a more cinematic light, director David Wnendt successfully portrays and reflects upon the connection between childhood trauma and the sexual/social dysfunction which occurs later in life.
What makes “Wetlands” so enjoyable to watch is Wnendt’s insistence on moving the film with Helen and not around her or even in spite of her. Instead of feeding the audience information that Helen isn’t aware of, we’re given the opportunity to really invade her headspace by allowing her to tell the entire story, coming to certain revelations when she does and, ultimately, feeling the gratification of her actions when she does at the end of the film. The approach ends up being much more successful due to Helen’s erratic and uncontrollable personality, one that, if given the opportunity, would most likely dominate a film being made about her life. Doing this also gives Helen the chance to unknowingly expose her selfish and borderline manipulative tendencies, but the uncompromising honesty of her narration serves as a justification for her behavior, and the character never becomes unlikeable or someone the audience wouldn’t want to see succeed, regardless of her abominable hygiene.
The film’s pacing does leave something to be desired, as Helen’s stories can become repetitive once the film enters its second act. There’s little variation in scene formula by the time she’s admitted to the hospital, and Wnendt attempts to salvage it by having each scene be more repulsive than the last. He never loses sight of the ultimate end-goal, which is essentially to depict a young girl who’s rebelling against her life by refusing to adhere to societal norms, but it can get tedious when the director is so obviously attempting to nauseate his audience.
I can’t exactly say that I was exempt from feeling a little queasy during certain sequences, but I can say that it felt more than a little cheap, especially when Wnendt proves that he has so much more up his sleeve than we could have ever imagined. “Wetlands” is a surprisingly powerful film, one that touches upon themes rarely offered in modern cinema, especially teen sex comedies. All faults aside, “Wetlands” is a film of uncompromising bravery, which is more than one could say about most American comedies aimed at the teenaged demographic.Continue Reading Issue #19
September 5, 2014
1 hr. 45 min.
N/A (equivalent of NC-17 for explicit graphic sexuality, disturbing images, language and some drug use)
Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski, Marlen Kruse, Meret Becker, Axel Milberg, Bernardo Arias Porras