Where did I first hear about Wetlands?
I saw Wetlands on Netflix while browsing for a movie to watch. The girl with the crazy hair and the vibrant poster caught my eye, so I decided to look into it. It seemed like a strange and crazy movie, with a rather bizarre plot description I might add, which is right up my alley. I had no idea what I was in for…
Alright, right off the bat, I have to say that this movie is definitely not for everyone, especially people with weak stomachs, and is extremely NSFW. But do not leave my blog just yet!!!! Do not worry, I will keep the brief summary, and review tame. But for real, I cannot stress this enough, this movie shows some deeply grotesque images that are not for the faint of heart. If you are planning on eating some candy and popcorn during this movie, do yourself a favor and just don’t. Under all of the raunchy and shocking material is the honest story of a lost and unique girl.
Wetlands is a German film based on the partially autobiographical novel by Charlotte Roche and was the world’s best selling novel in March 2008. It is a bold, bawdy, drama directed by David Wnendt, produced by Peter Rommel, and written by David Wnendt and Claus Falkenberg. Helen, our leading lady and narrator, played by Carla Juri, is an eighteen-year-old girl who chooses to stray from the typical social norms. The first words out of her mouth are telling the audience that she has had hemorrhoids ever since she can remember and that she never thought she could tell anyone about it. She then begins to talk about how her mother had always stressed bathroom and genital hygiene, ever since she was little. Shortly after that there is a flashback to when Helen was just eight years old. Young Helen, played by Clara Wunsch, was standing on some sort of ledge, short enough to jump from, and her mother, played by Meret Becker, held her arms out to catch her. Of course little Helen tried to jump into her mother’s arms, expecting her to catch her, but her mother purposely let her fall to the concrete. Poor little scraped up Helen looks at her mother in confusion, and her mother tells her “Don’t trust anybody. Not even your parents. Better a scraped up knee now than a broken heart later.” Helen now says that she experiments with hygiene, also known as choosing not to have good hygiene at all whatsoever in any environment ever. Whether it is rubbing her, um, lady parts on a dirty public toilet seat, trading freshly used tampons with one of her only close friends and “blood sister” Corinna, played by Marlen Kruse, or taking a razor to her body hair roughly on her dry skin, Helen does not seem to be fazed even a little bit when it comes to poor hygiene habits. To me, the opening to the movie is quite brilliant because at just six minutes into the movie we understand that Helen was raised unconventionally and how she decides to go against everything her mother taught her as a form of resentment and rebellion. This sets the basis for the rest of the movie and allows the audience to better understand her emotional pain, extremely atypical behaviors, and just why she stands out from the crowd so much.
We begin to learn that her depressed mother is not the only one who raised her questionably. While visiting her father, Alex Milberg, she mentions that he often hurts her without realizing it. The movie then pans to a flashback exhibiting Helen’s father accidentally slamming the trunk of his car on her hand. This scene was obviously a literal version of her father causing her pain, but it was also a metaphor for her feelings of neglect caused by her father her whole life. Helen does not seem to care about many people, but she very much cares about the broken relationship of her parents. They divorced when she was young, and ever since then she has desperately wanted them to get back together. While shaving with a slightly damp razor one day, Helen quickly, and rather violently, starts shaving the dry skin on her legs and her pubic region, when she accidentally slices open the skin where her hemorrhoids remain. After a scream of bloody murder and a failed attempt at going to school with blood dripping down her legs and peering out from under her skirt, this act lands her in the hospital, which is the setting for the majority of the movie. She sees this as the perfect seed for a plan to get her parents to visit her in the hospital at the exact same time and magically fall back in love under the dreamy florescent hospital lights. She uses her charm and cherub-like face to get what she wants, persuading her naive nurse, Robin, played by Christoph Letkowski, to make the arrangements. She later says in the movie that she has always wanted to have a child of her own, but she has had herself sterilized in order to stop the vicious cycle of her family. She says that from her great grandmother, to her grandmother, to her mother, to her, all of the first born daughters of the family have been “neurotic, deranged, and miserable.” This is incredibly sad because she must have gotten herself sterilized in a rage of anger and emotional pain. Aside from her active sex life and casual drug habits, Helen’s hobby is growing avocado plants which she considers to be her own little family. I believe that caring for these little avocado seeds is her way of nurturing new life. I think she translates her feelings of neglect and emptiness from her lack of a loving childhood into love for the plants. Although she cannot give birth to a child of her own, she tries to find ways to express her motherly nature, while still holding onto her tough and wild exterior. Helen even has a hallucination in the hospital where she gives birth to an avocado plant, which was strongly a symbolic representation of her inner turmoil about wanting a family of her own in comparison to her growing avocados. Helen’s little brother, Toni, played by Ludger Bökelmann, also exhibits this crave to nurture as a result of an empty childhood; he is a quiet little boy who will become furious if anyone dares to touch his precious teddy bear. We do not know much about Toni, but I see the similarities between Helen and him in that respect. Although Helen does not let much of her soft side show on the outside, the audience gets an inside look into her shocking memories and thoughts as her narration guides us through her life.
After watching this movie, while I was still in complete and utter shock, I looked up some other people’s opinions. Some thought it was brilliant, some were repulsed by the vulgar scenes. Someone was so completely disgusted that he/she cut up the Netflix DVD with a pair of scissors, completely willing to pay the twenty dollar fee for damages (that is a bit extreme in my opinion). I think Wetlands is a film that does contain a load of shock value, but also has an immense amount of substance. I believe that her extremely appalling and distasteful language and behaviors are all a cry for attention, relating back to her parents. So people who think there is absolutely no reason for the gross content, should look a bit deeper . Although I will admit, some scenes were quite unnecessary and objectionable simply for the sake of being objectionable, leaving me annoyed at Helen to be completely honest. It is filmed beautifully, portraying a dreamlike and fantastical aura at times, while also emitting a quirky and comical vibe paired with alternative sounding music that fits Helen’s personality perfectly. Her flashbacks to her childhood, and scenes portraying her daydreams are saturated with deeply traumatic emotion and bright colors which entice the audience and allow people to sympathize for her and appreciate her as well. Carla Juri does an exquisite job of effortlessly portraying the tortured, yet free, soul of Helen, forcing the audience to feel things for her. I think Helen is one of those characters I could not picture being portrayed by anyone else. Overall, Wetlands is completely unforgiving, disquieting, and an intense movie-watching experience.
Is Wetlands worth watching?
If you are easily offended, and are not into crazy arthouse films, maybe you should skip this one. If you are like me and are a person who enjoys all kinds of movies, including foreign films, and does not mind a little shock value here and there, I say go for it; overall it is a totally fun movie!!
You can watch the trailer here (mildly NSFW):