Hygiene Takes a Hit in Movie of Charlotte Roche's "Wetlands"

Hygiene Takes a Hit in Movie of Charlotte Roche's "Wetlands"
Carla Juri as Helen in David Wnendt's "Wetlands"
(Courtesy of Film Press Plus)

The heroine of the Hollywood version of “Feuchtgebiete” (“Wetlands”) — a promiscuous, anally fixated 18-year-old who masturbates with an avocado stone and sups on bodily effluvia — is going to be played by Elle Fanning or Chloë Grace Moretz or Abigail Breslin….

No, that isn’t going to happen.

Despite their yen for recycling European hits, none of the American studios is going to remake director David Wnendt’s film of Charlotte Roche’s controversial first book — which outsold every other novel in the world in 2008. American squeamishness about poor bodily hygiene, which Roche championed with crusading zeal in her first-person story of troubled proctology patient Helen Memel, would preclude such anti-Swiftian fare from getting off the ground.

The book was partially written as a feminist screed against the “tyranny of female sex hygiene,” though some reviewers dismissed it as pornography. The uproar over it has probably skewed the reaction to Wnendt’s movie. Starring the Swiss actress Carla Juri, it rapidly generated notoriety following yesterday’s premiere in the Locarno Film Festival competition. According to Screen Daily,  “Facebook, Google and YouTube have removed the film’s trailer [below] from their platforms ‘due to sexually explicit and provocative content.’”

“The 12-rated trailer for the 16-rated film has now been replaced by a censored version,” Screen added. With Majestic Filmverleih posed to release the film in Germany on August 22, the distributor announced that the new trailer is “100% G-rated.”

“Out of consideration for our American friends, but also for all those people who sicken at the very sight of their own body, we want to help protect our youth,” Majestic elaborated none too seriously.

The scandal may be a storm in a teacup — or a fillip for box-office success. While the easily offended may balk at being grossed out by “Wetlands” and stay away, its embracing of disgust may pull in more viewers than the cultural gatekeepers (and fragrance manufacturers) would care to admit. Other will be intrigued by its Freudian subtext: you don’t need to have read Psychology 101 to recognize that Helen’s willful savoring of the body’s taboo essences is a reaction to her mother’s obsessive hygiene. Her prolonging of her stay in the hospital, necessitated by her causing an anal fissure when shaving, is a ruse to reunite her estranged parents and find a boyfriend in the male nurse with whom she bonds.

Reviewing the movie in Screen, Mark Adams was complimentary: “The self-consciously controversial German film… is an engagingly freewheeling delve into sexual and physical areas many films will choose to avoid.”

He added: “Helen is a bold, unconventional and complex character and it is to Juri’s credit that she manages to make her oddly tender and driven by her own sense of love and hope.

“Director David Wnendt… blends magical realism with sequences aimed to shock, but keeps the tone bright and breezy despite the provocative material he layers into the film. There are moments that will shock — a scene of four chaps masturbating onto a pizza comes to mind — but the film is never really offensive.” It is, he concludes, “an oddly tender story of a girl looking for love.” Though 20th Century Fox has a stake in “Wetlands,” an American indie distributor specializing in niche pictures could find it to their taste.

Watch the uncensored trailer for “Wetlands”: