Sex, toilets & hygiene converge in the strange German comedy ‘Wetlands’


SECRETION LOVE | Helen enjoys a little taboo public sex in the German comedy ‘Wetlands,’ which finds humor in a series of revolting situations.


ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor

Screen shot 2014-09-10 at 6.59.07 PMThe first image of Wetlands is a cleft of human flesh. A woman’s breasts? A man’s buttocks? A bicep? It’s sensual and erotic and you don’t even know what you’re looking at.

It’s also a fantasy that takes place mainly in your head. The reality is far less sexy than you imagined, and quickly becomes downright vulgar. But then the camera dives into the imagined inner world or the life of a hair, and suddenly the universe — down to the insanely incomprehensible details we’ve just seen — feels like a more interesting place. (It has the most disgusting fascination with public toilets since Trainspotting.)

Wetlands toggles back and forth through these contradictions: energetic rock music during a stint on the loo, woozy, dreamlike images of a mother and child … right up until the mom turns instantly, unfathomably cruel. (Did I mention it’s a German movie?)

There’s a lot of discussion of bodily fluids, a lot of gross-out behavior in the uncomfortable way Kids did.
It’s also a comedy.

It kind of has to be. If it weren’t for the quirky sense of playfulness, Wetlands would be very, very difficult to watch. The subject matter is aggressively non-commercial. (It even begins with a warning that this should never have been turned into a movie.) It’s erotic and revolting, but with a strange, buoyant outlook that defies you to walk out.

Gay German cinema in the 1970s plumbed similar subject matter, with films like Taxi Zum Klo and much of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s gargantuan output. The cliché is to call a film like this “fearless,” but it fits … though maybe a better phrase would be “unrepentant.” Kurosawa said the role of the film director is “to not avert his eye.” Wetlands’ writer-director David Wnendt seems to have taken this advice to heart.)

Helen (Carla Juri, who goes for broke) takes eccentricity and experimentation to new heights. She seems to revel not just in risky sex, but free-spirited wackiness. She lies about everything, just to see what the reaction will be. She enjoys the experience of being as gross and unhygienic as possible; she obsesses about her hemorrhoids; she shaves her legs like she butchering a pig. It’s all very unpleasant, like fetish porn for a fetish you’re not into.

And that’s the conundrum. It’s difficult to recommend Wetlands, even as you admire its commitment to a (sadly) believeable if on-the-fringe story. But just how much anal leakage, dirty underwear, genital shaving and secretions are the right amount?

Personally, I tapped out before the end. There’s only so much “art” one man can take.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 12, 2014.