Sundance: Explicit 'Wetlands' Pushes Sex Boundaries (Even for Sundance)

WETLANDS Sundance Film Still - H 2014

WETLANDS Sundance Film Still - H 2014

The slick German-language coming-of-age movie has people squirming and cringing thanks to its envelope-pushing sequences.

PARK CITY — Amid the banter about star-studded premieres and hot-topic documentaries, one question seemed to pop up repeatedly in conversations on Main Street during the first weekend of the Sundance Film Festival: "Have you seen Wetlands?" 

Perhaps the most sexually explicit and audacious film to hit Sundance this year, Wetlands is a German-language coming-of-age drama about a young woman with an unhealthy and fetishistic obsession with certain body parts (and bodily fluids), mostly as a result of her reaction to her parents’ divorce. When an anal fissure (don’t ask) sends her to a hospital, she tries to get her emotionally distant father and mother back together, hits on her male nurse, and devises ways to stay in the hospital.

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The movie, from German director David Wnendt and based on the German best-seller by former VJ Charlotte Roche, features an aria-like sequence of four men masturbating on a pizza (you have to see it to believe it) and a heroine who gives a monologue on “pussy mucus." She rubs her privates on a filthy toilet and swaps dirty tampons with her best friend, among a litany of surely NC-17 activities.

But even though the movie doesn't hold back, it's not a pure exploitation pic, and it's easy to understand why the film got decent reviews when it played internationally and why Sundance chose to show it in the world cinema dramatic competition. There’s an energy and a pop sensibility to Wetlands (yes, that's a reference to her nether region) that has a Trainspotting-like quality to it.

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“The point was not to be the most explicit or the most provocative,” Wnendt told the crowd after the movie’s public screening Saturday at the Temple Theater. Still, at a press screening on Friday, a few people are said to have walk out. (Sundance has a history of screening films that push boundaries of sex and violence, and walkouts have happened in the past.)

Wnendt already is generating heat as a director, with agents and managers lining up to meet him after the screening. Carla Juri, the beautiful actress who plays the lead character, also is generating heat in the representation community. (Since the film premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in August she has snagged by Anonymous Content and Curtis Brown.)

Juri, who stood on the stage with Wnendt and others after the screening, said she didn’t know about the book or its controversy (some labeled it thinly veiled porn even as it sold more than 1.5 million copies in Germany). And when the adaptation was being cast, one critic said that whoever stars in the movie will be disgraced. That only encouraged Juri to take the role, she said.

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“I saw her as what she is, just a human being,” Juri said of the character. The actress, who was 27 when she played the 18-year old, also said the nudity didn’t bother her since she disconnected herself from the character. “It wasn’t me. I never felt it was me that was doing it. It made it easier.”

Whether this movie gets a North American release in any fashion is unclear but clearly its talent are poised for a rise.