Feuchtgebiete, dir. David Wnendt, scr. David Wnendt, Claus Falkenberg, based on Wetlands by Charlotte Roche, st. Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski, Marlen Kruse, Meret Becker
The Buzzfeed quote in cool-net vernacular dominates the English-language poster of David Wendt's movie: "The most wtf, nsfw movie at this year's sundance film festival..." it reads. Coupled with Carla Juri's V-sign/cunnilingus gesture it's clear what the movie's being sold on and actual content be damned. Which is a shame because if nothing else, it's horribly misleading. Wnendt's film is explicit in many ways, certainly as culturally taboo as its successful source material, but always as a function of serving the narrative, never at its expense. The film follows 18-year-old Helen (Juri) and her colourful odyssey in which she collates, documents and experiences the various pleasures and sensations provided by bodily effluvia. As a skateboarding, punky, closet-feminist she eschews the binaries that traditionally segregate the sexes, embracing her femininity one moment, throwing out social norms the next. Excitedly and eagerly she masturbates with a whole fridge-load of veg while extolling the virtues of natural scent over and above what she derides as mythological fantasies regarding feminine hygiene. She's as obsessed with the various bodily viscosities found within as she is in forging her own singular path through life, refusing to exist in any particular prescribed emotional or physical state. We discover, via an eye-watering home-shaving accident and subsequent hospital visit, that Helen's modus operandi might be the result of quasi-repressed childhood trauma, but actually, less psychiatric than that, a simple burning desire to see her separated parents reconcile once more. Wnendt's film deftly sidesteps sensationalism and, worse, gratuitous exhibitionism and manages to uncover real drama in the narrative, and in Carla Juri's sincerely brave performance, a protagonist you actually root for and warm to rather than find repellant. Keeping things the right side of playful is Enis Rotthoff's electro-bounce soundtrack and Jakub Bejnarowicz' high-contrast cinematography, but the real feat is in Wnendt's direction, precisely locating all the right tonal shifts with surgical precision and never allowing the film to become the unclean, unpalatable disaster it so nearly might have.