Christoph Letkowski and Carla Juri in by David Wnendt’s “Wetlands.” | STRAND RELEASING
BY GARY M. KRAMER | In the cheeky sex romp “Wetlands,” Helen (Carla Juri, in a star-making performance), claims, “If you think penises, sperm, and other bodily fluids are gross, you should just forget about sex altogether.” She licks seminal fluid — “sex-souvenir chewing gum,” she calls it — from her fingers, and then tests which vegetables in the family fridge are best for masturbating. She determines cucumbers are okay, ginger is not, and carrots are the best.
The 18-year-old Helen, who thinks about sex almost all the time, covers this turf in the film’s opening 10 minutes, as well as revealing her itchy hemorrhoid problem, her penchant for filthy toilets (that rival the one in “Trainspotting”), and her “living pussy hygiene experiment,” which she uses to arouse men.
Suffice it to say, “Wetlands” is not a film for the easily offended. But this vivid, darkly funny comedy-drama, adapted by director David Wnendt from Charlotte Roche’s best-selling novel, will have adventurous viewers laughing and gasping at the same scene, as in a deliciously cruel episode from Helen’s childhood in which she learns a harsh lesson about trust from her mother.
Carla Juri is a young woman in lust in David Wnendt’s comedy-drama “Wetlands”
Helen’s extreme behavior may stem from bitterness over her parents’ divorce. She wants them to reunite and tries to arrange this from her hospital bed, where she is recovering from surgery to repair an anal fissure caused by an unfortunate shaving accident.
If “Wetlands” is a piece of hard candy that has fallen on the floor and gotten dirty, it does eventually dissolve in one’s mouth to reveal a sweet center. In the hospital, Helen flirts with her handsome male nurse, Robin (Christoph Letkowski), and has an erotic fantasy about him that involves licking his ass. His patience for her appeals to Helen, who really just wants to be loved. Still, she orders a pizza so she can recount an outlandish tale of a semen-covered pie — a scene Wnendt films in explicit and hilarious slow motion.
The pizza sequence is sure to become infamous, and other scenes involving a homemade tampon and Helen hurting herself in a bloody bid to stay near Robin prove nothing is off-limits for Wnendt.
Despite all the shock scenes, Helen is sympathetic, even when she is not especially nice. She tells her mother she looks forward to taking care of — and humiliating — her when she is old and infirm. Helen also has contempt for her father, who has started dating a younger woman. Unfortunately, a late reveal that explains the root cause of the family dysfunction comes across as Psychology 101.
That subplot, however — teased out over the course of the film — is part of Wnendt’s strategy to take audiences on a rollercoaster ride. Visual tricks give audiences an in to Helen’s mindset, and an animated sequence illustrates the bacteria she battles on a dirty public toilet seat. An hallucinatory episode where Helen and her friend Corinna take drugs is captured using a split screen. Mercifully, the director offers viewers breathers between the film’s many outrageous moments.
Juri is fearless in her performance. Whether skateboarding bare-assed through the hospital corridors or visiting a brothel where Helen has oral sex with a female prostitute, the actress makes the moments as thrilling for viewers as they are for her uninhibited character. Juri also manages to make Helen endearing while tip-toeing through filthy water and experiencing anal incontinence — though some may not find these scenes very pleasant to view.
That’s both the strength and drawback of “Wetlands.” The film is so over-the-top it almost challenges viewers to endure it. Were it not so well made and well acted, it could be unwatchable. Instead, for those who dare, “Wetlands” is unforgettable.
WETLANDS | Directed by David Wnendt | In German, with English subtitles | Strand Releasing | Opens Sep. 5 | Angelika Film Center, 18 W. Houston St. at Mercer St. | 18 W. Houston St. at Mercer St. | angelikafilmcenter.com/nyc