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A delicate balance of a trash art and character study
Wetlands is a film that prides itself on being gross, unsavory, and not for the faint of heart, but does so in such a candy-colored manner that also masquerades as an attempt at sensory overload that it forbids you from looking away at all its grossness. It gives us a lot to zero-in on with every scene, from unadulterated narration, vibrantly-colored visuals, and explicitly-detailed fetishes carried out in a manner that make the film equal parts stomach turning (for some) and irresistible for others (like myself). If you're one of the people who thought that tampon-sharing and anal fissures were underexplored topics in contemporary cinema, or cinema in general, here's a film that gives you a nod and a thumbs up.
The film stars Carla Juri in a fearless role, especially for an actress so young and so inexperienced. She plays eighteen-year-old Helen Memel, a young woman obsessed with filth and depravity, so much so that she actively exposes her vagina to some of the most unclean places in society, like public bathrooms. She believes body hygiene, especially the cleanliness of the genitals, is hugely overrated, and relishes the thought of sexual pleasure through the use of vegetables. Helen's mom (Meret Becker) is a hygiene-obsessed, religious soul, constantly changing her religions and working to protect her daughter from a filthy society, and her father (Axel Milberg) is a cold, unfeeling soul who spends little time associating with her on a level that could be considered very loving. Helen is often left to look towards Corinna (Marlen Kruse), her best friend who engages in the same kind of depravity that she adores so much.
One thing Helen detests with all her heart is shaving, so naturally, she tries to conduct the act in the fastest manner possible. In the middle of shaving her buttocks, she gives herself an anal fissure, and winds up in the hospital in searing pain with a bulging blister. In the hospital, Helen recounts a lot of her parents' marriage to us, and establishes relationships with the nurses and such, making for a film that is equal parts devoted in showing the pasts of these characters as well as the present. With that, we also see the relationship between Helen and Corinna go beyond innocuous discussions of sex between one another to the point of the actual practice of sex and masturbation.
Writer/director David Wnendt and co-writer Claus Falkenberg do their best to balance Wetlands, making it equal parts a story filled with shock and gross-out gags but also an intense, unusual character study in the most rewarding sense. Wetlands isn't a film you necessarily watch, but feel; feel as it crawls underneath your skin, making even the most hardened, fearless film-watcher wince with its perversions and its depictions of sexual liberation and hygienic carelessness. Juri plays a character so in love with the idea of being unclean and unabashedly disgusting that she owns her role, and is fiercely watchable throughout the entire film.
Make no mistake, however, as Wetlands is a filthy film, arguably the filthiest released last year. Punk-rock in its attempt to destroy our social norms and trashy in the best sense, its desire to depict a variety of perversions, fetishes, and disregard for personal hygiene in explicit detail makes it one of the most daring and awe-inspiring pieces of work in quite sometime. I'm hesitant to bill it as satire, being that it seems to fully embrace this kind of deviant counterculture, however, I employ the rule of them I use in detecting and recommending satire with this film, and that is to see it because by fearing or condemning it without seeing it, you're only proving it correct.
Starring: Carla Juri, Marlen Kruse, Meret Becker, and Axel Milberg. Directed by: David Wnendt.
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