Sundance 2014: Wetlands review

★★★☆☆
David Wnendt's Wetlands (2013) stars Carla Juri as Helen, an adventurous teen experimenting with sex, drugs and haemorrhoids.The daughter of divorced parents - and with countless issues feeding her angst - Helen spends her days indulging in casual encounters with strangers, vegetables and public toilet seats. One day the bleeding starts and Helen is hospitalised for an anal fissure. There, she befriends nurse Robin (Christoph Letkowski), who becomes her sexual confidante and monitors her bowel movements.

Based on the novel by Charlotte Roche (published in English by Grove Press in 2009), Wetlands is a 21st Century coming-of-age story, built to shock audiences through the systematic use of bodily fluids. If you're easily distressed by graphic imagery, you may wish to sit this one out. However, if the sight of four men ejaculating onto a pizza doesn't phase you, Wetlands can be an unusually intriguing, funny and entertaining visual experience. Director Wnendt opts for a fast pace, with MTV-style cutting and extravagant angles.

The voiceover narration, taken de facto from the book, keeps the tale going. In the end, though, it's the casting of fresh-faced Swiss youngster Juri that proves to be the winning card in the deck. She's no suicide girl/tattooed skateboard punk, and her hairstyle and attire scream "nerd next door" rather than violent and vulgar vixen. Yet, you're drawn to her awkward smiles and androgynous figure, which joyfully clash with the filthy language she uses to shock everyone around her. You would think that had Audrey Hepburn be born in the nineties, perhaps she'd use a film like this as a star vehicle instead of riding a Vespa with Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. Wnendt's Wetlands, first screened at Locarno last year, is definitely capable of finding an audience outside of Germany - where the original book was a bestseller with more than one million copies sold, which justifies its blockbuster attitude - albeit a very open-minded one, ready to embrace its quirky elements even if it's not coming from yet another tortured arthouse effort.

The Sundance Film Festival takes place from 16-26 January 2014. For more info, visit this link.

Massimo Benvegnù
 

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