This review was originally published on January 30, 2014…
Let he or she who hasn’t thought about sticking something unholy into their holiest of holies cast the first stone. Quicker than hearing Frank Costanza say “million to one shot,” you probably said “no.” And that’s OK. If I had asked simply if you wanted to hear the story of someone else treating one of their orifices as the wrong entry point of a square peg the answer would probably be nearly as quick. Even the opening scrawl of David Wnendt’s Wetlands comes with a warning label that Charlotte Roche’s book should never be adapted into a film. That warning came from the author herself. The discomfort of its viewing may be sprinkled with some dark humor now and again, but its quirky cry for help is still at the expense of a character we would rather not get to know so intimately.
Helen (Carla Juri) is not at big believer in hygiene. She demonstrates as much by wiping her bare bottom on a public toilet that makes you wonder how disgusting the last woman to use it was. As hemorrhoids evidently run in her family, Helen’s narration and butt-scratching provide a constant reminder that she is as unafraid to share her flaws with strangers as she is the more pleasing aspects of her body. When her fascination with shaving strikes a little too close to the home of her itchy stowaways, Helen winds up in the hospital where she is intent on keeping herself for the rest of this story.
Through frequent flashbacks we learn that Helen has not had the kind of parental normalcy that most well-adjusted kids are used to. She learns the harsh truth of trusting the wrong person through her mother (Meret Becker) while dad (Axel Milberg) has inflicted more subtle humiliations on the women closest to him. With bodily fascination comes Helen’s experimentation, including a notebook of the most pleasurable vegetable-based dildos; a routine of self-stimulation that has suited her just fine until now. That is until hunky nurse, Robin (Christoph Letkowski), is naïve enough to be tempted towards her teasing demeanor and gives a reason to maintain her current stay.
The idea of such an unhygienic individual growing to love the sterile and boring, if safe, surroundings of a medical institution is an interesting one if we were able to maintain our own fascination with the character. Lack of fear towards the microbes that make up the known universe, and becoming one with those infestations, is an amusing theme at first. A little masturbation here and some blood trickling there challenges our own stomach for a while, but when the boundaries are then continually tested with wound puncturing and freshly-made spinach semen pizza, the tolerance level for the material and the character goes downhill rather quickly.
Carla Juri invests Helen with spunk (of all sorts), but like any teenager vying for attention, it is easy to let the parental or annoyed citizen part of you scream for her to just grow up. The 28 year-old actress is never believable in presenting herself as a 17 year-old, and that makes it easy to forget just how naïve she is supposed to be and how presumably shocking her behavior really is. Wnendt keeps the film alive with the occasional visual cue taking us inside the cortex of a pubic globule (a la the opening of Fight Club), or a well-timed reference to a sci-fi remake, but this is a film that goes from gross to amusing and back to gross until we’re as numb to the eventual reveal of Helen’s trauma. Wetlands would have been better served giving us the source of this behavior rather than allowing us to judge first and understand later. What happened to Helen was horrible, and some of the things she does to herself are even worse, but that automatically doesn’t earn our sympathies or our interest.