Everything you need to know about “Wetlands” is contained in its opening shot, what appears at first to be a mundane peek at one’s buttcrack, presumably that of Helen Memel (Carla Juri), the film’s cheery lead character, that soon spirals out to reveal it is actually the crevice formed by the back of her knee as she gleefully rides her bicycle down the street. It’s a ridiculously skilled and complex camera move for something so juvenile, the kind of meticulous shot John Waters might’ve considered if he ever wanted to have the mastery of Martin Scorsese, or more likely in the case of German helmer David Wnendt, Tom Twyker and it’s what makes “Wetlands” stand out as both a sex comedy and a coming-of-age story.
Things only get weirder and more perverse from there for the young Helen, whose free-spirited mother gave her such consistently bad advice as a child that the only piece of it she took away was when she was told, “Don’t trust anyone, not even your parents.” Rebellion for Helen comes in the form of a determined lack of feminine hygiene, a predilection that allows Wnendt to create montages as visually stimulating as they are vulgar, watching as the young woman sits on the most disgusting toilets Deutschland has to offer, deciding which vegetables will be most gratifying to masturbate with and relishing the chance to describe her more reserved friend Corinna’s (Marlen Kruse) sexual encounters gone awry. Yet Helen ultimately goes a bridge too far when giving an all-too-cursory shave of her privates that puts her in far more serious contact with the bacteria she has long welcomed, resulting in a hospital visit that puts her in touch with her own mortality.
At that point, “Wetlands” begins to remind of another German comedy, 2003’s “Good Bye Lenin,” which sees a son go to extremes to prevent his bed bound mother from finding out that Germany has been unified while she was asleep in a coma, and while Wnendt clearly isn’t interested in anything of that scope, he does take an outlandish premise and finds the emotional resonance in it. Much of this has to do with Juri, who is both immensely appealing and completely fearless as Helen. Sexual exploits aside, Juri’s gradual nakedness in front of the camera as far as letting Helen’s walls down to reveal someone still very much trying to make sense of the world becomes quite moving and even though the film’s running time seems a bit excessive at 105 minutes to tell a pretty slim story, Juri has a wry smile and a blank face that add a mystique that make you want to follow her anywhere.
Wnendt knows this, giving him the license to push well past the limits of good taste, but beyond being a provocation to open up the eyes, “Wetlands” proves that’s the way into the heart as well. In spite of an early disclaimer that states “This book shouldn’t be read or adapted to film,” taken from a letter to the editor from Bild Online, you’re glad Wnendt and company went ahead and did it anyway.
“Wetlands” opens on September 5th in New York at the Angelika Film Center and on September 12th at the NuArt Theater.