"Wetlands," a film that bares all, but says nothing
We live in the age of sensationalism. In the landscape of current post-modernism, the limit is pushed in music, TV and film for the sake of being pushed, there does not even need to be the pretext of a coherent, focused idea(l). For a clear, in your face example, look no further than Germany's little infant terrible offering for the season, director David Wnendt's "Wetlands," a naughty beast that is not so much shocking as it is simply gross. While the film offers some skillfull cinematography and at least one interesting performance, it's all gloss over an in your face symphony of blood, mucus and semen that bares all, but says little.
The film stars Carla Juri as Helen, an odd girl in modern Germany who has a cemented distaste for general hygiene, this includes a fascination for the sticky, slimy, quite literally unclean aspects of modern life such as dirty toilets.
Helen's great emotional scar in life involves the hellish marriage of her parents, which ended in divorce, which becomes a source for much of her outlandish behavior. When an anal fissure caused by a quick shaving session sends Helen to the hospital, her childhood memories will clash with current life hurtles in a swirl that might help her finally find some happiness.
The spirit of the times is such that horror means grotesquery and funny means disgusting, and while some films find an interesting balance or use of the two, Wnendt directs "Wetlands" with the spirit of someone who shoves a rotten banana in your face or opens his mouth to display its chewed contents.
This is not to say he's completely talentless, Wnendt knows how to position his camera and some of the neon cinematography and editing was reminiscent of Tom Tykwer's "Run Lola Run".
However, a real grasp of this material's potential escapes him.
Unlike Pedro Almodovar, who knows how to balance the sexually edgy with a strong script, Wnendt seems to be obsessed with pushing the envelope to the point where the shocks overtake the narrative.
For example there is a side character, Corina (Marlene Kruse), who is Helen's best friend. Their friendship however, is never allowed to be fully realized or established because Wnendt is more obsessed with showing us the pair masterbating and smearing menstrual blood on their faces without any context or insights into why Corina would even go along with Helen's unorthodox habits.
The novel by Charlotte Roche on which the film is based is supposed to be an edgy, defiant take on the expectations imposed on women. While unread by me, it appears Wnendt and his co-writer, Claus Falkenberg, dismissed the sociological aspects of the book and simply retained the graphically blunt elements.
It is common knowledge that human beings masterbate, Wnendt gleefully gives us a long form scene where Helen pleasures herself with various vegetable items, but in this uncensored age there must be more of a reason to give us the full experience on film. So Wnendt adds the bonus of having people unknowingly cook a barbecue with the veggies Helen just used for orgasmic escape.
In another, operatic sequence, Helen recounts a pointless story about a group of bratty women who order a pizza and are baffled by its strange taste. Lab tests soon reveal that the pizza contains semen from four different men. Wnendt proceeds to give us a slo-mo sequence where pizza workers gather in a circle to masterbate over the undelivered pizza to the strings of "The Blue Danube."
Daring? Yes, but in the context of someone who just yells "f--k!" in a public space and runs off.
Wnendt is late to the party, he wants to revel in showing us raw nudity in a time when hackers gleefully spread Jennifer Lawrence's private photos around the net, but he wants to make it feel special by making it cringe-inducing. Sitting through "Wetlands" is the same as spending time with someone who has refused to shower for a month.
Characters in this film seem to inhabit a nether region where their real stories are kept hidden away from us, they simply enter scenes to say an expected line and then disappear. Consider the storyline involving Helen's parents, they only serve the purpose of giving the film some kind of excuse for a traditional plot. Once Helen is in the hospital for her anal fissure, she finds ways to remain interned in order to try and bring her parents back together. Of course this scheme, like all the others, is literally soaked in blood and feces.
It must be said that Juri's performance in this film is no easy feat and it takes a certain amount of bravery to submit and expose yourself to the demands of this movie. It is common for high profile actresses to appear topless or nude in films, but Juri is made to be, for 2 hours, as exposed and intimate as the 20-minute sex scene in "Blue Is The Warmest Color."
On top of that she must act out behavior that, let's be frank, is not common coin among the average person, even in private (when was the last time you ate a surgical extraction?). But should she be commended? If "Wetlands" was a stronger, more focused film then yes, but Wnendt's misguided directing almost makes her effort mute.
Maybe the times are ripe for a film like "Wetlands." In its own way, it does crystalize much of the modern culture which is glossy, superficial and hyper-sexualized (not erotic, there's a difference). Rebelliousness today means "being different" by being nasty, and in that sense "Wetlands" succeeds for itself, but not for its viewers. Warning: Do not eat before, during or after watching this movie.