Wetlands is a mind-boggling film. Not the actual narrative - that part, though highly creative and enthusiastic, is rather simple - but it's inconceivable the film exists at all. Somewhere on planet Earth dozens and dozens of humans got together and told dozens of other humans "We're going to make a movie where [redacted] happens" and no one stopped them. The universe gave this cinematic masterpiece permission to exist, and it's such an audacious film that even though I've seen it with my own two eyes, I still can't believe it wasn't a dream.
Movies as dauntless and vulgar and uninhibited as this just don't get made. Somewhere along the way it feels like there has to be compromise; that someone in the approvals process would say, "No, you can't do this." And since there are no signs of that person's interference or hesitance present in Wetlands, I'm left scratching my head as to how something as perfect and unique and defiant as this escaped all the prudes and risk-adverse dream killers in the film industry and survived to make it to the big screen.
Wetlands is one of the most wholly realized, compromise-free cinematic visions I've seen in a long, long time. It's about Helen, a young woman's obsession with opening up her own body to every fluid and object she can find. To put things in perspective, the opening scene of David Wnendt's film is her tip toeing barefoot through a revolting bathroom flooded with an ankle-deep lake of sewage to find a toilet. The toilet seat is covered with the foul evidence of its previous user, and the camera zooms in on one particularly nasty spot and takes us through a microscopic world of lurking disease and bacteria that roar like monsters. Later we see Helen not only sit down on the very spot we've just been given a nightmarish tour of, but she then rubs her bare lady bits across the entire toilet seat, leaving it spotless.
And that's just in the first five minutes of what will undoubtedly be one of the most unforgettable films of 2014.
But it's not so much the perversions on display in Wetlands that I find so mind boggling, it's that director David Wnendt was able to find an actress to bring it all to life. That inspiring woman is Carla Juri, and I'm reluctant to even call what she delivers in Wetlands a performance because there is absolutely nothing performed or artificial about it. Nothing. Watching Wetlands feels like you're the kid in Last Action Hero and you've got a golden ticket that sucks you into a movie, only instead of hanging out with an Arnold Schwarzenegger character, you're best friends with one of the most beautiful and beautifully liberated characters ever conceived.
I know that using words like "ever" can seem hyperbolic, especially when we're talking about something on the film-festival circuit, but I can promise you with the utmost conviction that Carla Juri's Helen is one of the most perfect collaborations between a writer, a director, and an actress ever captured on film. It just does not feel like acting. It feels like the movie screen is a window into her world; like we're ghosts who can not only watch her daily life, but see inside her mind and visit the warped yet shockingly relatable memories that motivate her to make such potentially traumatic decisions.
Wetlands only seems like such an impossible film because the barrier between Carla Juri/Helen does not exist. Juri gives everything to Helen, to the point where the actress just disappears; the concept of performance fades away, and all that's left is a human being you know inside and out. I've rarely seen anything like it, and if you have the opportunity to see Wetlands anytime soon - especially on the big screen where the revulsion and discomfort of those around you only seems to fuel the singularity that is Helen - do not miss it. It's a masterpiece.
Following its premiere at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival, Wetlands will officially arrive in theaters this summer. Check out more of our coverage of this year's SXSW Film Festival here.
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