The Punk Force Is Strong in German Gross-Out Film Wetlands

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Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The most appropriate response to the German film Wetlands — the madly explicit story of Helen, a promiscuous 18-year-old with hemorrhoids who is obsessed with sexual fluids, hers and others’, and, in the course of shaving her anus, rips it open, whereupon it becomes infected and lands her in the hospital — is “Holy shit!” No, that’s wrong. Given the way she uses her blood to deface religious icons, it should probably be “Unholy shit!” The film, like the novel by Charlotte Roche (a longtime presenter on Viva, “the German equivalent of MTV”), wants to make you more than squirm; it wants to make you retch. Then it can say, “Ha! What a prude!” 

I admired its ballsiness — or, perhaps I should say, cheekiness. Carla Juri’s Helen is always smiling, always buoyant, whether discoursing on the magical olfactory properties of “pussy flora,” prodding her male nurse (Christoph Letkowski) to photograph her surgical site, or, in flashback, transforming sperm into chewing gum. Barbecue tongs, avocado pits … don’t ask. Thumbing through my old copy of Louise J. Kaplan’s Female Perversions, I can find little to account for Helen’s specific predilections, but the movie (directed by David Wnendt) makes it fairly clear that she’s reacting to her divorced parents, the over-controlling Catholic mother (who wants to kill Helen’s trust in other people as well as undermine her sexuality) and the hedonistic father who presents her with a book on slugs. Somehow she thinks her behavior will help bring them back together. It’s The Parent Trap for pervs.

The film’s (and book’s) stab at an emotional finale — something to do with Helen’s memory of her mother’s murder-suicide attempt — is inept, and the ending feels arbitrary. But women deserve their own gross-out movies, and, in Wetlands, the punk force is strong. If your taste runs thataway, you should see it in a theater with one eye on the audience — and hope that a few people will think they’re going to see a documentary about threatened ecosystems. Talk about all wet!

*This is an extended version of an article that appears in the September 8, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.