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“I liked this mixture of things that are really gross and things that are really erotic”

INTERVIEW. Director David Wnendt's hotly anticipated Feuchtgebiete (Wetlands) brings the feverish, gleefully obscene novel to the big screen in visceral technicolor from Aug 22.

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Photo by Peter Hartwig/Majestic Filmverleih

The most hyped German film of the year, David Wnendt’s Feuchtgebiete, opens nationwide on August 22 after a Locarno premiere and extensive pink carpet publicity.

Possibly the most anticipated German film of the year, Wnendt’s second film revisits the troubled young woman trope in his film version of Charlotte Roche’s Feuchtgebiete, whose main protagonist’s disarmingly fervent fascination with bodily excretions in general (note the nod to the toilet scene in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting) and sexuality in particular rocked the Viva generation’s world a couple of years ago. Referencing both pubescent moistness and the fragility of an ecosystem, Wnendt’s Feuchtgebiete (Wetlands) is a kaleidoscope of effects that deliberately teeters on the verge of fracture. But like the book, the film is held together by Helen Memel, played with unbeatable candor by Swiss actress Carla Juri. In terms of substance, the movie can’t match the potency of Die Kriegerin, Wnendt’s debut exploration of Brandenburg’s neo-Nazi scene. But despite traces of careful composition, the film retains a sense of exuberant, unbridled sexuality. Thanks to Juri it also succeeds, perhaps better than the novel, in exploring trauma without resorting to stereotypical broken-home analysis and showing that 18 can still be – breasts, blood, blowjobs and all – a great age of innocence.

Your second film – and your second film about a troubled young woman. Coincidence?

No, that’s what I’m interested in. The films are different, but in the centre you have these troubled young women. Basically, in a broad sense, they are coming-of-age films.

Were you familiar with the book Feuchtgebiete?

I definitely read it before I was selected to do this film. I’m not sure when, possibly even pre-Die Kriegerin.

How did you react, as a reader?

I really liked it. I knew and really liked Charlotte Roche, from Viva, so I kind of grew up with her. She’s exactly my generation. And I liked her humor, the absurd observations she makes about herself, about everyday life, about relationships. And I also liked this mixture of things that are really gross and things that are really erotic. It’s a really erotic and arousing book – with gross parts. When I read interviews with her, I understood what she was trying to do, to show. It’s a book about my generation.

You use the word arousing. Not pornographic. To my mind, the film is not pornographic.

I don’t know if that’s a compliment…

Maybe in the sense that it’s not seedy –

Even that – it would have been better, maybe, if… Although of course, we tried to strike a balance. I wasn’t interested in pure pornography, in really pushing this limit. I wanted the show the other dimensions that the book also has: the humour, for example, and the characters. But of course, I didn’t want to lose the erotic or arousing part. I mean the biggest scandal surrounding the book was that she (Roche) said: it’s good that people are aroused by the book; that people jerk off to this book. That’s really what made people angry: that a women could write something erotic and it’s taken as erotic. Usually, if people do arthouse films, especially in Germany, you’ll have one scene with a woman living her sexuality and another where she’s punished for it. She’ll get depression or start substance abuse. You have to pay a price. She (Roche) doesn’t. She shows a woman who has one-night stands without any negative consequences. No love issues. No bad feelings. It’s pure. That’s what’s interesting.

But her sensuality is inside her head as well: it’s self-gratifying but also self-destructive – and linked to a need for recognition.

That’s one aspect. But it was important for me to not have too simple, psychological explanations. It’s not that simple: that her sexuality is down to this or that, to the need for love or the issues with her parents. What’s interesting about the book and hopefully about the film, is that you can see these interpretations and gather all these puzzle parts and put it together but at the end, you’ll still have one puzzle part that doesn’t fit into the whole picture. Sexuality can be explained psychologically but is also erotic for the sake of being erotic.

Why did you introduce the skateboard, as a prop for the main character?

The main motive was filmic, visual. It allows a character to move with greater speed and exists as a visual image for the dynamic of her personality and her life.

The cinematography in Die Kriegerin was much more straightforward. Here, you’re using a larger palette: split screens, CGI. Did this occur to you as you read the book?

Yes. Because the book offers so many aspects, with very fast-paced storytelling. The concept was that anything is possible: that we’d use effects that you’d usually avoid, such as split screens. Here, we were able to have this kind of pop-cultural storytelling. We wholeheartedly used anything that was available.

What was it like working with such a young actress on such complicated and revealing material?

Working with young actresses is always complicated in itself. We had intensive rehearsals to build up a trusting relationship.  And of course, it was clear from the beginning that nudity would be part of the film. The limits of what would be shown were also clear, so that we’d established where we wanted to go. Of course, for an actress, there’s fear: not only regarding the shooting itself but about what will happen once the film comes out. Will I ever be able to go shopping without being assaulted? And in this case, there was so much media attention on the book, such a heated debate. That’s what makes this project special.

Are you worried about media reaction?

I’m not worried. But the reactions are definitely not normal. Even now (before the release), when nobody’s seen the film, the debate is on. As it was for the book.  There were angry comments from people who hadn’t read it. It’s now happening with the film. 

Feuchtgebiete opens in Berlin cinemas on August 22.