German sex comedy proves your body is a wonderland—an icky, smelly, disease-infested wonderland
Directed by David Wnendt
Cast: Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski, Marlen Kruse
Helen is a filthy girl in more ways than one. She sees herself as an explorer, a brave adventurer in the realms of human sexuality. A skateboarding teenage street urchin in Berlin, she’s turned her body into an experiment. Like a lot of young people, Helen has a healthy obsession with her own anatomy. She’s fascinated by the smells it emits, the fluids it leaks, the things it makes her feel. She can’t stop poking, prodding and experimenting with her nether regions, her undercarriage, her ... wetlands, as it were. She can’t, as Cyndi Lauper once sang, stop messing with the danger zone. She’s not so big on hygiene, though. For her, sex is grubby and sticky and stinky, and damned if she doesn’t love it that way.
Based on Charlotte Roche’s cult novel of the same name, Wetlands is a grotty, nasty, vulgar, exceedingly raunchy and surprisingly sensitive look at love, sex and the female anatomy over which so much of that often revolves. Despite its familiar exploration of teenage sex, this is no mainstream-friendly American Pie. This is filmmaking without a condom. Without protection of any kind. Raw dog cinema, if you like. The sheer volume of unabashed humor and uncensored honesty on display here is enough to make John Waters blush.
Our protagonist (played bravely—which is the only way to do this—by Swiss actress Carla Juri) is refreshingly upfront about her sexual proclivities. There’s something to be said for a film that shows no fear of the inner workings of female anatomy. But Wetlands isn’t all empowering Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. Helen isn’t just a young lady in touch with her menstrual cycle. She’s a girl with bad habits, questionable hygiene and—this is actually crucial to the story—epic hemorrhoids. This is partially (or perhaps entirely) the fault of her uptight, anal-retentive parents—
Deep in her dirty little heart, though, Helen is a romantic. When a medical crisis—initiated by the hemorrhoids, but far too distasteful to get into here—lands her in the hospital, Helen starts to reevaluate her life. First of all, she’s faced with an intensely cute male nurse (Christoph Letkowski) she’d very much like to have sex with. Second of all, having a daughter in the hospital on the melodramatic knife edge between life and death sounds like the perfect excuse to reunite her estranged parents. Underneath all of its pure, punk-rock raunch, Wetlands has a secret sweet side.
While Helen recuperates in the hospital, flirts with her nurse and schemes to get her parents back together, flashbacks take us through her life history, telling us how she got to this crazy juncture. Despite her brash, carefree exterior, we come to realize Helen is a mass of neuroses and depression. Her distant mother, an experimenter in world religions, and her flippant father, a wealthy hedonist, have left her with a laundry basket of trust issues.
Controversial as Wetlands is, the film is never exploitative. The sexual content doesn’t exist for titillation purposes. And—despite what ends up getting stuck where—the film isn’t aiming for shock value. Director David Wnendt (Combat Girls) takes what really amounts to an unfilmable novel and nails it to the wall with a rock-solid look and tone. The opening credits—just so you know what sort of movie you’re getting yourself into right off the bat—feature a microscopic, CGI-animated plunge into the germ-ridden, pubic-hair-flecked world of a public toilet seat. Funny, naughty and not at all welcome in polite society, Wetlands is like the bastard child of Run Lola Run and Pink Flamingos. Unlike Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, a similarly frank look at female desire that spends most of its time wallowing in unhappiness and regret, Wetlands is bright, funny and energetic. That doesn’t mean you should try and eat dinner afterward. You most definitely should not. Certainly not pizza anyway. (Just watch the movie; you’ll understand.)