Scratch and Sniff: Stylish, memorably gross "Wetlands" is something else

Wetlands (2014)
105 min., not rated (but equivalent to an NC-17).

"Wetlands" is a memorable curio, if there ever was one, that will be taken or left; it's a film that many will hate without even seeing it for themselves. If you have not read Charlotte Roche's all-in-German novel, you would not know that at the core of this screen adaptation it is about a young woman and her unsanitary hygiene. Movies have always been journeys into other worlds or, in the case of the one at hand, the lifestyles of people that we don't necessarily need or want to experience for ourselves. Our heroine is Helen (Carla Juri), a curious, open-minded 18-year-old exhibitionist who likes using the dirtiest public toilets possible and wiping all around the seat, even when she has hemorrhoids. She is not big on hygiene, so without washing her hands, she will eat chips and guac, receive oral sex and then collect her hookup's semen as chewing gum for later. She uses vegetables for masturbatory fun in the bathtub, marking down in her notebook which one works the best, and makes a blood-sister promise with menstrual blood. Her mildest pastime is growing avocados. So, as a subversive, gross-out take on a coming-of-ager that has no time for cleanliness, "Wetlands" tells you more than you probably ever wanted to know about anal fissures, but it would be a lie to say the film is without any honesty, humor, or heart, and there is no small amount of cinematic panache.

As a character portrait, co-writer/director David Wrendt & screenwriter Claus Falkenberg and Sabine Pochhammer compromise nothing. The film opens with a quote from a letter to the editor, "This book shouldn't be adapted to a film," and then establishes a punkish energy with Helen on a skateboard. What first appears to be someone's gluteal cleft reveals itself to euphemistically be a leg crease, and we hear the attention-getting opening line of her voice-over (or read through subtitles), "As long as I remember, I've had hemorrhoids." From there, Helen tiptoes into a flooded, disgustingly dirty underground restroom and we take a microscopic journey into the bacterial land of a pubic hair. Helen finding an anal fissure and nicking herself while shaving sets the story into motion, but we also learn about her divorced parents (Meret Becker, Axel Milberg) and their cruel tough-love tactics, as well as Helen's best friend/neighbor Corinna (Marlen Kruse), who gets humiliated in the girls' locker room just for following through with her boyfriend's request in the sack. When Helen admits herself to a hospital to have her fissure operated on, she flirts with handsome nurse Robin (Christoph Letkowski), who's assigned to her room, and hopes to bring her parents back together in the same room.

Being touted as "the most wtf, nsfw movie…," "Wetlands" lives up to that complimentary quote, but it's not exactly the easiest film to warm up to initially. It has a fetishistic predilection for bodily functions and fluids, none of which are off limits (and that goes for fluids on pizza), that one could see it coming with a scratch-and-sniff sticker. It's proudly gross and dauntlessly filthy. It's transgressive and entertaining. Finally, it's just a whirlwind of emotions. Traveling back through Helen's childhood, which brings context to her teenage self and hygienic ways, actually recalls Lars von Trier's double-billed "Nymphomaniac," only these filmmakers weirdly find insight and joy in telling Helen's life. When she is not telling us about not washing her nether regions, she also ponders death and opines on religion, much to the dismay of her mutter.

A cheeky, what-me-worry cross between Cecile De France and Paz de la Huerta, 29-year-old Swiss actress Carla Juri is an exuberant, uninhibitedand fully exposedpresence in a go-for-broke performance. Though you, the viewer, won't want to spend much more time with Helen than what her story allows, it's not impossible to relate to this female character all the time. Groundbreaking in its explicit, taboo-breaking sensibilities and bold nerve, "Wetlands" busts down the walls of good taste, like "Osmosis Jones" for cool adults, with plenty of heave-inducing imagery to go around. Were it nothing but a shocking gimmick, the film could be written off real quick, but besides being jaw-droppingly lewd and obscenely in-your-face, it's also pert, highly personal and dynamically edited. It is decidedly something else, and the shy and prudish can forget it.