CUFF 2014 REVIEW: WETLANDS

One cannot be blamed for thinking that the coming-of-age teen film is a genre which has been run into the ground in North America. But, it appears Europe has resurrected this product of the 1980s with the added twist it so desperately needed. With the likes of We Are the Best!, Wetlands, directed by David Wnendt, is ushering in a new era of female-focused youth stories. Just don’t expect anything like Sixteen Candles and you’ll be ready for what Wetlands has to offer.
 
What it offers is a bizarre, surreal and humorous perceptive on the life of one girl, Helen (played perfectly by Carla Juri), who believes personal hygiene is overrated and that the only people who are worthy enough to be intimate with her are those enticed by her vagina’s aroma. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, she has a wicked case of hemorrhoids, as well. Due to a session of reckless shaving, Helen inflicts an anal fissure upon herself and thus begins her oneiric experiences at the local hospital. Between attempting to bring her divorced parents back together and beginning a flirtatious (to put it mildly) relationship with her nurse, Robin (Christoph Letkowski), the film also juggles flashbacks of Helen’s past to flush out her character and drives.
 
wetlandsWnendt has done a fairly adept job at providing a strong sense of form to support and breathe life into the outrageous content of the film. Using juxtapositions as a formal trait to dramatic effect, Wetlands contrasts Helen’s current world as one which is a far removed from the one carefully constructed by her manic mother during her childhood. For example, early in the film, the horrific bathroom in which Helen is found trying to treat her inflamed hemorrhoids is set against the immaculate washroom from her home growing up. The visual reinforces Helen’s desire to be as different from her mother as much as possible. This physical reflection of Helen’s character is also supported by the film’s gender-flipping of the male gaze (Robin being the main focus of the gaze), thus giving the film far more depth than one would initially credit to it. These formal techniques allow Wetlands to exist as something more than just digestible entertainment due the empowerment they bestow upon Helen.
 
Besides its formal flourishes and subtle subversions, Wetlands is a cringe-inducing delight that constantly toes the line between clever and tasteless. Wnendt has created a film which should rightly be viewed as a mature addition to a genre filled with so much pop and fluff that it will be impossible for one to ignore the existence of Wetlands.

By Rory O’Dwyer

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