Dir: David Wnendt. Germany. 2013. 109mins
The self-consciously controversial German film Wetlands (Feuchtgebiete) is an engagingly freewheeling delve into sexual and physical areas many films will choose to avoid. Channeling Trainspotting with a dash of Run Lola Run, it is driven by a charismatic performance by rising star Carla Juri, whose character’s anal obsessions take her off on a wild and oddly romantic journey.
The revelation of Wetlands is the dynamic and charming performance from Swiss actress Carla Juri whose verve and intelligence shine through as she dominates a film that is littered with fine performances.
The film, which screened at the Locarno Film Festival and is set to open in Germany, will no doubt divide audiences and critics, but it is a bold, colourful and watchable film, directed with style and an engaging sense of the oddball by David Wnendt, with its sexuality and edginess likely a plus when it comes to sales to more savvy and smart indie distributors.
Based on an equally controversial novel by Charlotte Roche (who starred in cult German film Eden, but is perhaps now best known as a TV personality and writer) it sets out its themes and style right from the opening sequence as skate-boarding teen Helen (Juri) discusses her hemorrhoids and general anal obsessions, as well as her frank thoughts about how body hygiene is overrated.
Echoes of Trainspotting (sans drugs and shot more glossily) are there right from the start as she makes her way into a disgusting public toilet, tiptoes barefoot through the dank water on the floor and tends to her hemorrhoids, before explaining how she likes to wipe her naked behind on a dirty toilet seat. The tone – well at least a desire to shock – is set, as her monologue explains her family background and how her mother’s hygiene obsession set her off in the opposite direction.
Soon she is naked in the bath experimenting with vegetables as sex toys (ginger gets a no, but carrots a big yes); explaining the background as to why she shaves her body hair so vigorously; musing over the sex life of her best friend Corinna (Marien Kruse), and also hoping that her separated parents (Meret Becker and Axel Milberg) might one day get back together.
A intimate shaving accident sees her ending up in hospital where head doctor Prof. Notz (Edgar Seige) rushes her through for a vital anal operation. She views her time in hospital as a chance to bring her parents together at her bedside, and finds an ally in male nurse Robin (Christoph Letkowski), who she also starts to fall for.
The revelation of Wetlands is the dynamic and charming performance from Swiss actress Carla Juri (who looks like a young Meg Ryan circa Top Gun) whose verve and intelligence shine through as she dominates a film that is littered with fine performances (Meret Becker as her mother is especially memorable). Helen is a bold, unconventional and complex character and it is to Juri’s credit that she manages to make her oddly tender and driven by her own sense of love and hope.
Director David Wnendt (whose last film was the abrasive Combat Girls in 2012) blends magical realism with sequences aimed to shock, but keeps the tone bright and breezy despite the provocative material he layers into the film. There are moments that will shock – a scene of four chaps masturbating onto a pizza comes to mind – but the film is never really offensive…it is simply offering a provocative sheen to an oddly tender central story of a girl looking for love.
Production companies: Rommel Film, ZDF
International sales: The Match Factory, www.the-match-factory.com
Producer: Peter Rommel
Screenplay: Claus Falkenberg, David Wnendt, based on the novel by Charlotte Roche
Cinematography: Jakub Bejnarowicz
Editor: Andreas Wodraschke
Production designer: Jenny Roesler
Music: Enis Rothoff
Main cast: Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski, Meret Becker, Axel Milberg, Marlen Kruse, Peri Baumesiter, Edgar Selge, Harry Baer