WETLANDS (Feuchtgebiete) C-
Germany (105 mi) 2013 d: David Wnendt
Germany (105 mi) 2013 d: David Wnendt
Not for the meek or timid. Taking a page from many recent films that objectify women’s bodies, viewed as demeaning from a male view, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon (2013), where Scarlett Johansson plays the male fantasy version of a voluptuous tease, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Black Venus (Vénus noire) (2010), a wretchedly abusive early 19th century historical example of European racism, and even to some extent his sexually exploitive lesbian film Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie d'Adèle, Chapitres 1 et 2) (2013), especially as seen under a male eye, but then it becomes empowering by female directors, like Hager Ban-Asher’s The Slut (Hanotenet) (2011), where the director herself plays the lead character, or Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty (2011), where a woman becomes a gorgeous plaything, a look but don’t penetrate porcelain doll, where liberation is achieved by defying the male stereotype. Jonathan Glazer takes a stab in Under the Skin (2013), again using Scarlett Johansson, turning an extraterrestrial perspective into a feminist view of female objectification, where women are judged and valued through surface artificiality, and what’s inside hardly matters. David Wnendt is a German director who has for the most part created a lesbian fantasy, where a young anal-obsessed woman seeks liberation by freeing up her body to perform any gross and vulgar task she can imagine, testing the limits of bad taste right from the outset, notably the opening half-hour, and then plunging ever deeper into a full-blown exploration of anal fantasies. What separates this from the rest is the whimsically comic view that a woman’s body is meant to be shared as often, and in as many ways, as possible, where it has a blaring punk music soundtrack that growls for attention, pushing the envelope of what’s deemed acceptable, and then going farther into repugnant territory.
Carla Juri is our bad girl Helen (age 27 when she made the film, though she’s perceived as a teenager), initially seen as a little 8-year old girl (Clara Wunsch) receiving instructions on how not to trust anybody, including her own mother (who allows her to jump into her arms from a ledge and then intentionally fails to catch her, hoping this memory of a painful injury will provide fruitful results), but also proper instructions from her mother (Meret Becker) on how to clean and maintain proper hygiene for her private parts, as her worst nightmare is having an accident and being discovered with unclean underwear. As a result of her mother’s fanatical obsessions, Helen as a young adult has been ingrained with a hyper interest in her female orifices, where the title of the film refers to her vaginal region, where one of her favorite pastimes is rubbing it on every known filthy object imaginable, seen in the opening scene of the film cleaning an indescribably filthy toilet seat until it is spotlessly clean. Due to her mother’s feverishly persistent cleaning habits, Helen likes to go a good week or so without cleaning, where the overwhelming stench from her pubic region is perhaps what she’s most proud of in herself. While the idea of accepting yourself, gross and all, is well meaning, the film goes to great lengths to create nauseatingly uncomfortable images, a bit like Kirby Dick’s SICK: THE LIFE & DEATH OF BOB FLANAGAN, SUPERMASOCHIST (1997), which was known to make viewers pass out in the audience. Whether or not one agrees with the film’s premise is not the issue, as it discovers new heights in sexual material as comical farce, where it simply grows deliriously ridiculous, yet like any bad car accident, it’s hard for many people to look away, as the tendency is to be curious about outrageous displays of colossal disasters happening before our eyes.
After awhile this may grow repetitive, where the viewers may be asking themselves how far they really want to go with this, as it can get grotesque after awhile even as it attempts to maintain a tone of silly fun. It is somewhat reminiscent of Marina de Van’s IN MY SKIN (2002), which is an admittedly squeamish film of not only self-mutilation, but self-cannibalism as well, where the degree of excess is mind-boggling, yet de Van’s film plays as an arthouse horror film, while Wnendt’s over-the-top exaggeration is meant to be comical throughout, where Helen is no shrinking violet, but extremely comfortable in her own skin. She winds up in the hospital under particularly inauspicious circumstances, and immediately takes to one of the nursing staff, Robin (Christoph Letkowski), always exposing herself, but also asking for his help in getting her separated parents back together, choreographing their visits so they would bump into each other. In this way, it’s a good-natured comical farce, a fantasy of what the world would be like if people could simply accept one another and be happy with themselves. Helen’s partner in crime is her girlfriend Corinna (Marlen Kruse), where they go through teenage experimentation together, each showing a fearless resolve to overcome all inhibitions, where Corinna’s attempt to please her punk drummer boyfriend is one for the ages. Adapted from a Charlotte Roche novel, one would think this is unfilmable, or better yet, should never be filmed, where there’s a pizza sequence that will probably leave the audience wishing it had never been filmed, as one hopes no one really gets the idea, but the film is apparently very popular in Germany where they don’t have sexual phobias and taboos like the more puritanical USA. The one thing going for the film is its overall snarky tone of subversiveness, like the raw and graphic sexual imagery found in underground comics, and some humorous use of music, but Helen’s naïve notion of happiness is fairly sweet and innocent, and certainly far from deviant. You’d think she may outgrow many of the most disgusting habits once she gets them out of her system, where it’s not the exploitive imagery, but mostly her candy-colored, light and cheerful attitude that carries the film.