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Strand Releasing // Unrated // January 13, 2015
List Price: $32.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted January 12, 2015 | E-mail the Author
One of the first things people have and will continue to say about Wetlands is that it's a frank exploration of women's sexuality. That's certainly true, but it may be more accurate to call the film an exploration of women's biology. The film's protagonist, Helen Memel (Carla Juri) is certainly interested in men (especially their semen, which she saves on her fingers for eventual consumption), women (including her best friend), and sex in general (testing the qualities of various vegetables as sex toys), but also in the fortitude and resilience of her butt and vagina in the face of a germ-covered universe. They say that the best way for the body to fight infection and disease is to become afflicted in the first place, so that the human defense system can learn its enemy and prepare for it. Wetlands pulls no punches in watching Helen test this theory, in a movie that will turn a few stomachs, but possibly win a few hearts as well.

When Helen was a young girl, her mother (Meret Becker) insisted she keep her genitals clean, right up to a nightly inspection. Of course, she also teaches Helen another lesson, intentionally refusing to catch her as she dives off a garden ledge onto the stone driveway. "Never trust anyone," she says, "not even your parents." It should come as no surprise to Mom that Helen, now 18, takes a "live and let live" approach to feminine hygiene, even going so far as to intentionally rub herself on the kind of public toilets that make one yearn for the relative qualities of one in Trainspotting. Yet, when she does eventually find herself in a hospital over a problem with her asshole, it's not because she's caught something, but a result of her need to stay trendy while disliking the act of shaving. A nick with a razor in the wrong place is aggravated by hemorrhoids, resulting in a surgery to remove a chunk of her rectum. Helen requests a diagram to understand the operation, and the photo drawn by the doctor (Edgar Selge) looks kind of like a slice taken out of a pizza.

The opening stretch of the movie, before Helen is hospitalized, is the weakest part of Wetlands. Adapted from a book by Charlotte Roche, co-writers Claus Falkenberg and David Wnendt (the latter of whom directed) can't explain or set-up the character without relying on the old adaptation standby, voice-over. The humor in these early scenes is reduced by the filmmakers' need to essentially explain the joke, and, as is often the case, the voice-over actually pushes us farther from Helen, as if we are observing her from a distance instead of actually accompanying her on her journey. Upon her arrival for surgery, she becomes obsessed with a charming male nurse named Robin (Christoph Letkowski), and the movie immediately improves, dropping the voice-over in favor of the two characters forming a strange but friendly relationship. The film also backs off a bit on its obsession with gross-out humor, which is not a flaw, but can play more like a conscious attempt to be juvenile than an extension of Helen's character. Still, Helen insists on keeping the chunk of flesh removed from her backside, and tells Robin a story about a pizza that may be the height of the film's sexual outrageousness.

Aside from Helen's courtship of Robin (which sparks a subdued rivalry between Helen and Robin's ex, another nurse in the hospital), the film focuses on her turbulent childhood and the volatile relationship between her parents, who are now divorced. Mom continues to chide her uncleanliness; Helen responds by mocking her Catholicism, picked up in the wake of the divorce. Dad (Axel Milberg) frolics with a young girlfriend half his age, but is generally more receptive to his daughter's rebellious nature. Helen has a desire to see her parents get back together, even as she reflects on their constant fighting, and enlists Robin to lure them both to the hospital at the same time. There are also sequences of teenage debauchery with Helen and her best friend, Corinne (Marlen Kruse), who get unreasonably high together on a drug dealer's forgotten stash and forge a blood pact by trading tampons. Although the threads are only loosely connected, a series of somewhat random reflections branching off of the hospital stay, the film flows nicely, remaining compelling if not cohesive.

Above all, the film rests firmly on Juri's shoulders, who exudes a wicked, playful exuberance that makes the film feel wholesome even when its content is determined to disgust. She quizzes Robin on the reason he and Nurse Valerie (Peri Baumeister) called it quits (not enough oral pleasure), and talks openly about not just her sexual fantasies, but also deeper concerns and regrets. When the film finally arrives at the full-on darkness of Helen's past, Juri's performance takes on new layers retroactively, highlighting the hint of heartbreak in some of her devious smiles. Movies that try and juggle the sentimental with the scatological often fall flat, but Juri's charisma carries the viewer along as Helen flies through the hospital on her skateboard. Wetlands can be a tough film to stomach, both comedically and dramatically, but it's worth it just to see a star being born, in close-up, graphic detail.

The Blu-ray
Strand keeps its theatrical poster art of Juri with her fingers in a V in front of her face intact on the Blu-ray cover, complete with the BuzzFeed logo. The single-disc release comes in a non-eco Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC and with a German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track, Wetlands looks and sounds very nice on Blu-ray. The film is very stylized in both areas, starting with a wild CG sequence flying through a jungle of bugs and germs that surrounds and envelops the viewer in every microscopic detail. Many sequences are set at night or in near darkness (including a psychedelically enhanced nightclub sequence), and the disc handles them nicely, with no obvious instances of posterization and only what appears to be intentional levels of crush in the darkest areas of the picture). The bright hospital room provides a nice contrast, with the white walls broken up by pink faces and Juri's orange hair (as well as the occasional blood). Dialogue sounds fine, and there are other sequences with more surrealistic touches of sound design that also come across quite nicely, as well as a multitude of squelching, squishing sound effects. English subtitles are provided.

The Extras
The back cover mentions "Alternate Artwork", but it's not a reversible Blu-ray sleeve, rather a gallery of other artwork ideas that were passed over for obvious reasons. Sadly, that's pretty much it, aside from three original theatrical trailers, one of which is a "pink-band."

Wetlands isn't just an R-rated comedy, it's fascinated by fluids on a level that Tom Green would admire. Those who believe they can handle that will find an uneven but ultimately successful romantic coming-of-age comedy bolstered by a luminous lead performance. Recommended.

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