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Wetlands | Review

Soggy Bottoms: Wnendt’s Latest an Extravaganza of Delightful Perversity

David Wnendt WetlandsGerman director David Wnendt’s adaptation of Charlotte Roche’s novel, Wetlands, is a bildungsroman unlike any other; a perverse, crassly uninhibited sexual memoir of aggressive note, lending itself to a select group of films that manages to be as titillating as it is genuinely and shockingly repulsive. If the dramatic tension of the narrative, which concerns an adolescent female’s struggle to cope with her parents’ messy divorce some years ago, seems a bit banal, it’s because there’s not storyline out there that could possibly combat the overriding hedonistic and gloriously unabashed sexual adventures of a young woman (and film) unfettered by sanitized attitudes toward the human body and its various functions.

A letter to the editor graces the opening credits, which addresses a reluctance to adapt the novel to film, a quick precursor to a blaring Peaches track introducing us to our ragtag protagonist, Helen Memel (Carla Juri), as she skateboards and digs in her asscrack at the bothersome hemorrhoids she explains have been plaguing her anus. Quickly, things get even more skin-crawlingly abhorrent, as she wanders, barefoot, through pools of water in a public restroom to apply ointment to her derriere, only to have her omniscient narration explain that she loves to rub her crotch over dirty toilet seats, a blatant rebellion to her mother’s (Meret Becker) insistence on keeping a clean, sanitized vagina.

Amidst an astonishing multitude of revolting and hysterical instances of exploring sticking things into orifices that range from sometimes titillation to near Cronenbergian body horror, we get filled in on Helen’s background that sort of explains her ability to be so sexually free, which revolves around the rather messy divorce of her parents. But a haphazard shaving accident in her nether regions results in an anal fissure and a trip to the operating table, where she milks her stay in the hospital as way to get her parents to communicate once again. At the same time, she develops a rather strong, reciprocated attraction to a nurse, Robin (Christoph Letkowski).

A delightful and effervescent performance from Carla Juni anchors the more distressing elements of Wetlands, a wide grin mischievously peeking out from under a mop of curls that make her look like Justin Bieber if he were to join MGMT. A running time of nearly two hours flies by breathlessly in her company, filled with priceless exchanges that are hysterically funny either for their discomfort or their sharply observed moments of familial discord.

At the end of the day, most of Helen’s borderline insane behaviors begin to feel like ways of acting out for attention more than they do as a quest to be a fully realized sexual being. However, it serves as an interesting way to tell a familiar story. But beyond any of these types of detractions, Wetlands is a film that gloriously embraces a frank exploration of human bodily functions like no other, a veritable ‘warts and all’ endeavor, if you will, that’s refreshing, funny, and most importantly, memorable.

Reviewed on January 17 at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival – World Dramatic Competition. 109 Mins
★★★ 1/2 /☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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