Bodily Fluids and Avocado Sex: A Review of “Wetlands”
There is so much going on in Park City this week that it really is impossible to do it all. Amid the big-name features, poignant documentaries and parties filled with beautiful people (and the fat guy from “Lost”), one film seems to be on everyones tongue: “Wetlands,” or as people have been referring to it, the film about the girl who masturbates with vegetables.
Billed by Buzzfeed as “The Most WTF, NSFW (what the fuck, not safe for work) Movie At This Year’s Sundance Film Festival,” the German film is much more than that, but you still will be squirming throughout. Adapted from the bestselling novel of the same name, it is a female coming-of-age picture that makes other popular coming-of-age pictures look like children’s programming on PBS.
Helen (Carla Juri) is, in her own words, a “living pussy hygiene experiment,” whose life has been shaped by her neurotic, tormenting mother and careless but vaguely loving father. Brought up to be extra vigilant about cleanliness, especially in regards to femininity, Helen throws it all out the window when her parents get divorced following the birth of her younger brother.
Of course, we find this out later. The film opens with 18-year-old Helen skateboarding barefoot down the street, relentlessly itching her hemorrhoids that she has struggled with for years. As we listen to a voice-over of the character proclaiming proudly that she rarely washes her genitalia and yet has never had a yeast infection, we see the raw, DGAF way she lives her life: Sliding her naked nether region over a urine-and-pubic hair-covered public bathroom seat, refusing to wash her wet hands after giving a hand job to a boy at the beach, and yes — masturbating in the bathtub with vegetables from her mother’s refrigerator.
It is when Helen cuts her anus shaving (The sound and visual from this moment still haunt me) that she goes to the hospital and undergoes immediate surgery to fix the fissure. The hospital staff, including handsome male nurse Robin (Christoph Letkowski) are accommodating to the girl who has suddenly skateboarded into their lives though, like the audience, they have never met anyone like her and display that fact visibly on their faces.
The film adheres to a linear structure from then on as Helen struggles to get her parents back together, attract the attention of Robin and heal her butt, which isn’t healing as fast as Robin’s ex-girlfriend and fellow nurse Valery would like. What gives the film it’s edge and merit is the way the holes are filled in (I had to, sorry) regarding her family’s dark and damaging past. Frequent nightmarish dreams and flashbacks reveal a child exposed to a spiteful, pained and mentally deranged mother.
The cinematography is stunning. As Director David Wnendt told the stunned audience after the film, he set out not to make the most “explicit or provocative” film but rather a film with a distinct pop-sensibility. Many shots throughout the film are from Helen’s point-of-view as she skateboards through the streets and hospital in her exposing gown. Shots involving anatomical areas below the pelvis push the boundary between acceptable and exploitive but are, in the end, done tastefully and without any genitalia in direct view. Quick jump cuts and sharp pangs keep the audience from settling into a lull.
Following the theme of pop-art and pop-culture is the fantastic, punk-inspired musical score. An almost entirely original score by Enis Rotthoff is supplemented by Peaches’ “Fuck The Pain Away” and a beautiful, catchy new song by Ezra de Zeus, “Wetlands,” that can only be compared to what Kimya Dawson did for the film “Juno” with her band’s song “Anyone Else But You.”
The audience will see every bodily fluid imaginable in this film, but the bottom line is that personally, I am glad I saw it. Coming-of-age films suffer from lack of originality and tend to follow the already beaten path. This is why “Wetlands” will leave a lasting impact on you. Helen is not your typical character who has lived a not so typical life but by the end of the film, you will feel much different than you did at the beginning… and be clinching your butt cheeks.