Wetlands is a story of love, growth, friendship and family - tightly plotted, graphically imaged, unflinchingly pre-occupied with scatology, sex and morbidity. Still, for all the serious themes, the film is filled with rich, unforgettable imagery and humor, both in and above the gutter.
It's not the Little House on the Prairie landscape that the film's hero Helen must wade through. Its more like the bathrooms of Berlin. Helen has hemorrhoids and a more than healthy fixation with all her parts south of the equator. Her willingness to share images and her ideas on feminine hygiene may be too much for some audiences. But beyond the toilet tours, the wash of blood and fecal matter, Helen's story rewards the stalwart viewer with a well told tale of the struggles of youth.
Helen's parents are split. Her mother dabbles in every spiritual system available, stocks the home with a succession of idiosyncratic lovers and exposes more than her ideas to make a point. Helen's father is more staid, immersed in his work. Still both evidently love their daughter. Helen works to restore their relationship and her family. Similarly she strongly bonds with best friend Corinna and her boyfriend, drug dealer Michael.
Unencumbered by adult taboos, Helen explores her orifices with no inhibitions and unbridled glee. The sights, smells and taste of her body propel her growh, mediating her social landscape. She professes not to care about hygiene, refusing to wash her smoldering parts. But like the venus fly trap, uses what nature has given her to seduce.
Shot in black and white, the film is dotted with startling imagery - a pizza topped off to the strains of The Blue Danube, toilet seats being personally cleaned and a lilting long shot of Helen skateboarding down a haunted hospital hallway, gown fluttering, gloriously illuminated from behind as she rides from adolescence to growth and the promise of a relationship and renewed family.
Wetlands is based on Charlotte Roche's 2008 novel of the same name. When the film debuted at the Locarno Film Festival, David Wnendt was nominated for Best Director. Luminescent Carla Juri, as Helen, was nominated Best Actress at Sundance. With Wetlands behind them, we can only hope to see more of Wnendt and Juri.