By Simon Miraudo
July 7, 2014
Wetlands takes a gross thing, teenagerdom, and makes it grosser, which is like setting out to make an especially revolting movie about your last bout of conjunctivitis: any memory of the experience is probably potent enough. Still, credit to director David Wnendt, adapting Charlotte Roche’s controversial, conservative-enraging novel, for finding plenty of gag-inducing ways to make this kind-of funny coming-of-age tale increasingly repulsive.
It begins with our heroine, German teenager Helen (Carla Juri), picking her haemorrhoid-ridden crack and wiping her nether regions on a public toilet-seat so foul even the cast of Trainspotting would hesitate diving into it. This, it should be noted, is really just the setting of the bar. Later on, Wnendt and his co-writers Claus Falkenberg and Sabine Pochhammer have to think outside the box to find opportunities to disgust, making visual an urban legend relayed by Helen of four male pizzeria workers ejaculating onto an outgoing delivery. Oh, the things you’ll see.
The plot, as uncertain and unbalanced as it is, concerns Helen’s admission at a hospital following the development of an anal fissure. In there, she recalls her anonymous sexual encounters and drug-addled adventures, as well as her ultra-hygienic upbringing (resulting directly in her rebellious attempts to pick up genital diseases wherever they might be on offer) and the dissolution of her parents’ marriage, hoping that her recent misfortune might actually bring them back together. Orderly Robin (Christoph Letkowski) offers a sympathetic ear, and, inappropriately, a camera to snap her newly-operated rectum. As Helen’s stories grow more frenzied and her narration more unreliable, she eventually admits to having trouble differentiating “reality, lies, and dreams,” hinting at the big secret she’s long kept buried deep within.
Helen’s various memory-montages (not to mention the ejaculatory pizza-basting) are realised with Lust for Life-ian dynamism by Wnendt, taking inspiration from Danny Boyle, surely, just as Roche must have been influenced by Irvine Welsh. Juri, with her cherubic smile and messy pixie cut, is relentless and fearless in her part, and not just when she’s asked to insert a variety of vegetables into her person, to name just one further outlandish act. She cuts a likable figure, even when self-harming to extend her hospital stay. Juri can’t keep Wetlands from going soft in the final act though, once the nauseating, early shocks have subsided, and the way becomes paved for the screenwriters’ new, somewhat-happy ending. It may boast some truly unique shocks, and a rarely-seen, uncompromising glimpse at ribald female sexuality, but Wetlands is not nearly as substantial as the best teen films. What can be seen can never be unseen. Actually having a lasting effect on a viewer is something else entirely.
Wetlands plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival July 7, 9, 11, 12, and 13, 2014.