Thursday, September 11, 2014

A super-provocative 'Wetlands'

A young woman revels in filth in this brash German import.
No point trying be circumspect about Wetlands, a gleefully provocative German film based on a notorious 2008 novel by Charlotte Roche. Let me be more specific: The movie's first important plot development arrives when 18-year-old Helen shaves her anus, cuts herself and lands in the hospital with a severe infection.

Once under medical supervision, Helen thinks about her life, her attraction to filth (literally), her best friend and various bodily aromas often regarded as unpleasant.

One supposes that Wetlands director David Wnendt wants to make you queasy here and there, but to do it with a punk freshness that runs against the story's often-perverse grain.

Moreover, Carla Juri, the actress who plays Helen, portrays a young woman who seems entirely shameless about her body, viewing it as a kind of malodorous collection of fluids (her term for one is "pussy mucous") that she not only accepts, but exalts in.

The presumption is that those of us who probably wouldn't think it's a good idea for two menstruating women to trade tampons are stuck with some rigidly prudish notion of what bodies really are.

Helen doesn't need to say it, but the movie seems to want to be a shriek against an increasingly Photoshopped world in which beauty and blemish are kept separate, as if by edict.

Helen, who provides the movie with its narration, begins by telling us that for as long as she can remember, she has had hemorrhoids. That explains why she's often shown picking at her rear-end.

I can't recall if Helen discussed diet. Probably not. But her vegetarian impulses include using a variety of vegetables for masturbatory purposes in scenes that may put you off the produce aisle for a bit.

For all its surface provocations -- and I haven't really given you many -- there's a story here.

Helen and her best friend Corinna (Marlen Kruse) engage in full-bore rebellion as Helen tries to reunite her divorced parents (Meret Becker and Axel Milberg).

Helen's behavior may be wild and even degenerate, but her motivations prove embarrassingly conventional.

While hospitalized, Helen develops a flirtatious relationship with her male nurse (Christoph Letkowski). He displays an extraordinary tolerance for her various penchants, which frequently blur the line between the movie's attempts to be bold and its tendency to be ... well ... disgusting.

There's no denying Wnendt's visual chops or his fondness for defying expectation with upbeat, lively pacing.

Juri also proves a force with which to be reckoned. And if it counts for anything, nothing in either Wnendt's or Juri's approach seems colored by self-reproach.

Still, I'm not sure that Wetlands adds up to anything more than a celebration of its attempts to be as wildly transgressive as possible. Why is the movie showing us all this stuff? Perhaps because it can.

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