Wetlands: The Filthiest Movie of All Time
By LILY LEVY-EPSTEIN Photography RUBY ROSE
Volatile hemorrhoids, semen covered pizza, bloody tampon swapping, human- defecating-on-human-foreplay, and the world’s most disgusting bathroom: what do all of these things have in common? Honestly, not much – except that they all contribute to hyper- unhygienic Helen’s (Carla Juri) unique coming of age tale in some gross, bizarre, and excitingly unprecedented way.
The film opens up on Helen’s bare behind – wait, no – her bare (knee crotch? knee pit? knee crevice?), as the camera flips upside-right to reveal a vertical moving dolly shot of her riding a skateboard, shoeless. Subsequently, we are thrown into Helen’s vulgar and wholly gripping voiceover: a narrative tool that is used (quite successfully, I would say) throughout the entire film. Helen’s story goes as such: she is living her life, being young and disgusting alongside her best friend Corinna (Marlen Kruse) and divorced parents (Meret Becker and Edgar Selsge), when she accidentally cuts her (already “angry”) anus, mid-shave. Overwhelmed by the pain, she then checks herself into a hospital, hoping to relieve herself of the agony, but more importantly, hoping to reunite her strange broken-up family. What ensues is an unexpected trip of self-discovery, a budding romance between herself and shy nurse, Robin (Christopher Letkowski), in addition to an uphill battle against her own body to remain hospitalized until the anticipated point of parental reconnection.
What makes David Wnendt’s 2013 German film, Wetlands, so unique is, quite discernibly, its unmatched ability to delve into the disgusting. Perhaps it is the film’s visuals that make it so filthy. Perhaps it is the film’s narration that makes the viewer feel so sickened. Or,
perhaps, it is the film’s use of German narration that makes it seem so abrasive; there’s something about Juri’s soft, sexy voice uttering such harsh, crude speech that can be quite disorienting. Nevertheless, it is not simply the fact of its vulgarity that makes the movie so groundbreaking. Rather, it is the film’s identity as a female world of crudeness that makes its nauseating nature so completely fascinating. After all, how often does one get to encounter a filmic piece that so explicitly portrays the lewd characteristics of a young woman’s growing sexual identity? Rarely. However, this fact does not stop Wnendt from pushing the audience to their absolute limits by exposing them to the filmically underrepresented world of unflattering female biology. Panty stains? No biggie. Unbecoming smells? Who cares. Public masturbation? Whatever. Soliciting a prostitute? A rite of passage. Rubbing one’s genitals on a feces-ridden toilet seat? Innocent curiosity. Yeah. Wetlands is not afraid to go there.
In terms of performance, Carla Juri does an incredible job at giving life to the ever-so- complicated Helen. She is bold and magnetic, always pushing the audience to watch even the nastiest of scenes with one eye open. Juri’s voice is emotive and vibrant, eternally full of life, perpetually filled with teenage anger, and never void of intense sex appeal. Her narration listens as one big secret: forever enticing, and perpetually a whisper. The physical look of Juri as the role of Helen is one of the more complex aspects of her character. After all, if we’re being honest here, Helen looks rather gay. She sports a typically-androgynous pixi haircut, which overflows with golden shaggy curls that probably haven’t touched a hairbrush for quite some time. She tends to favor “edgier” wear over less normatively “feminine” apparel, such as dark casual shirts, distressed denim shorts, and old, grey, ratty converse. This isn’t to say that all gay women don this type of attire, but in this case, Helen’s clothes highlight her unspoken queerness. As an audience, we are led to believe that she is attracted to men. However, we also gain insight
into Helen’s sexual identity through her first-encounter-with-a-prostitute story. In this story, the prostitute is a woman. Additionally, something else that raises the question of Helen’s queerness is her relationship with Corinna. There is a great deal of tension between the two of them (the tampon swap/removal, becoming “blood sisters,” taking the smoothie-cup of drugs together, and, of course, their climactic break-up) but the relationship is never discussed in a homoerotic light. I wonder if this was a conscious decision of Wnendt’s to make the audience question Helen’s “straightness.”
Ultimately, Wetlands is as seductive as it is disgusting. The film has the impressive ability to make you wonder why you’re watching any of this craziness if you can’t even open both eyes. However, it also possesses a greater narrative, which is more affecting than all of the blood, fecal matter, and bodily flueds combined. Wetlands tells the story of what it’s actually like to realize who your family is for the first, adult time. Parents are flawed, whether they’re married or divorced – a concept we don’t usually gather until reaching adulthood. Without giving away any spoilers, Helen experiences many fragmented memories of her childhood throughout the movie that she doesn’t fully understand. Short shots and sequences of her parents fighting, making up, and negatively interacting with her younger self manage to hint at some larger, more sinister memory. Eventually, that recollection is revealed, and we are left with the harrowing realization that Helen has been hiding and repressing a part of her life that has hugely informed her current, rather disturbed, self. Are her odd perversities truly a consequence of sexual desire? Or, are they the unusual effects of her post traumatic stress? Wnendt leaves this open to interpretation. I’ve seen the film three different times, and I’m still not sure. Nonetheless, I will keep watching it – as many times as necessary – until maybe one day I can figure it out.