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    Horny Wetlands Is Not a Film for the Easily Offended

    garyIn the cheeky, horny teenager sex film, Wetlands, Helen (Carla Juri, in a star making performance), claims, “If you think penises, sperm, and other bodily fluids are gross, you should just forget about sex altogether.” She licks the seminal fluid—what she calls her “sex-souvenir chewing gum”—from her fingers, and then tests which vegetables, borrowed from the family fridge, are best for masturbating. She determines cucumbers are OK, ginger is not, and carrots are the best.

    The eighteen-year-old Helen, who thinks about sex almost all the time, makes her pronouncement in the film’s opening ten minutes. She has already revealed her itchy hemorrhoid problem, her penchants for filthy toilets (that rival the one in Trainspotting), and her “living pussy hygiene experiment,” which is used to arouse men.

    filmSuffice it to say, Wetlands is not a film for the easily offended. But this vivid, darkly funny comedy-drama, adapted from Charlotte Roche’s best-selling novel by director David Wnendt, will have adventurous viewers laughing and gasping in the same scene. This is evidenced in a deliciously cruel episode from Helen’s childhood, in which she learns a harsh lesson about trust from her mother.

    Helen’s extreme behavior stems perhaps from her bitterness over her parents’ divorce. She wants them to reunite, and tries to arrange this from her hospital bed, where she is recovering from surgery to repair an anal fissure that Helen created during an unfortunate shaving accident.

    If Wetlands is a piece of hard candy that has fallen on the floor and gotten dirty, it does eventually dissolve in one’s mouth to reveal a sweet center. In the hospital, Helen flirts with her handsome male nurse, Robin (Christoph Letkowski). She has an erotic fantasy about him, which involves licking his ass. Moreover, his patience for her bad behavior seems to appeal to the bold and daring Helen, who really just wants to be loved. Robin seems to enjoy this rule-breaking patient, who asks him to take photos of her ass, and orders pizza so she can recount an outlandish tale of a semen-covered pie that Wnendt films in explicit—and hilarious—slow motion.

    film2The pizza sequence is sure to become infamous, but so too is another off-putting episode in which Helen trades a homemade tampon with her best friend Corinna (Marlen Kruse). When Corinna’s tampon gets stuck, Helen solves the problem in a way that is both hysterical and horrifying. Apparently, nothing is off-limits for Wnendt, who also does not shy away from showing Helen’s painful and bloody action that will keep her hospitalized so she can continue to romance Robin.

    Despite all of the shocking scenes, Helen is sympathetic, even when she is not especially nice. Helen tells her mother that she looks forward to taking care of—and humiliating—her when she is older and infirm. She also has contempt for her father, who has started dating a younger woman. A late revelation explains the root cause of the family dysfunction, but it comes across as Psychology 101.

    Wnendt’s presentation of this subplot—teasing it out over the course of the film—is part of his strategy to taking audiences on a rollercoaster ride throughout Wetlands. He also uses visual tricks to get viewers into Helen’s mindset. An animated sequence is used to illustrate the bacteria on a dirty public toilet seat that Helen vigorously wipes with her naked ass. Wnendt employs devices such as a split screen during a hallucinatory episode where Helen and Corinna take a copious amount of drugs. The director deliberately creates breathers between the outrageous moments to give viewers a chance to recover from—or brace themselves for—the next uncomfortable sequence.

    film3Juri is, as one would expect from Helen’s extreme behavior, fearless in her performance. Her willingness to skateboard bare-assed through the hospital corridors, or visit a brothel where she has oral sex with a female prostitute, are moments that are as thrilling for viewers as it is for the uninhibited character. But Helen is also endearing when she tiptoes through filthy water, or experiences anal incontinence. It just may not be very pleasant for viewers to watch.

    And this is both the strength and drawback of Wetlands. The film is so over-the-top it almost challenges viewers to endure it. Were it not so well made and well acted, Wetlands would be unwatchable. Instead, for those who dare, it is unforgettable.

    © 2014 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” You can follow him on Twitter @garymkramer