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Review: A captivating ‘Wetlands’ pushes the boundaries of taste

A scene from "Wetlands."
(Handout)

The unrepentantly vulgar and captivating German coming-of-age film “Wetlands” gives new meaning to the term “naughty bits.”

The gutter isn’t where its mind and heart are, though. Based on a novel by Charlotte Roche, the movie’s hemorrhoids-suffering, skateboarding 18-year-old heroine Helen (Carla Juri, in a whirlwind turn) is a hygiene-obsessed sexual rebel for whom filthy public toilets, bodily fluids and fridge vegetables carry equal experimental weight in her prankish mind.

When she lands in the hospital after a shaving mishap — don’t ask — she hits upon the notion that she can bring her divorced (and eccentric, and emotionally negligent) parents together. Her handsome male nurse (Christoph Letkowski), meanwhile, doesn’t know whether to be horrified by her or turned on.

Movies with the scatologically and gynecologically impish tone of “Wetlands” (think “Trainspotting” meets John Waters) were made to divide audiences, and more than a few moments push the edge of taste. But director and co-writer David Wnendt is after serious comedy here, a character study of psychic pain, wounds hereditary and self-inflicted, and body-conscious absurdity that treats the human condition with wry intelligence, not empty prurience. Its nastiness sings, instead of stings.

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And it would be hardly as raucously effective without the game, brilliant and ultimately heartbreaking Juri, whose portrait of an adolescent seesawing between grownup hopes and childish games feels thrillingly new.

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“Wetlands”

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.

Playing: At Landmark’s Nuart, Los Angeles.


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