The biggest surprise out of Sundance came in the form of a German sexplotation film so aptly named Wetlands. It's a film that surged with raunch, comedy and genuine drama that had me wincing, bursting out laughing and deeply feeling for all at once. Simply put, it's a stunner. So all the better that director David Wnendt came out and had a chance to briefly speak with us about his divisively awesome film. Talking about how he skirted around censorship, being a man making a feminist film, German cinema and Quentin Tarantino, Wnendt goes into up the skirt on the making of Wetlands.
Q: So how did you come up with the story? What were you thinking?
David Wnendt: There’s a novel which this film is based upon. A German novel, it’s very popular in Germany, this film is an adaptation of that novel.
Q: What decided you to direct such an intensely feminine story as a man?
DW: That’s not the first time I heard that question. But I do believe that a guy or man could direct a female lead role and vice versa. So I think it would be very strange for men to only direct men’s stories about other men basically. So I think it’s pretty possible to do it. You work with the actors who brings their own view into the whole thing. It’s a collaboration with her of course.
Q: What kind of conversation did you have to have along the way, in terms of getting the movie to how explicit it was? Were there any memorable battles you had to fight, in terms of showing things or not showing things?
DW: Well, we were in a very lucky situation. The author who sold the rights...usually a best seller like that is auctioned off to the company with the most money and that’s in Germany...one or two production companies, if they would had done it, they would have done it very old fashioned, it would have turned very differently. But she decided to give it to not to the producer with the most money, but the one whose films she admired. So it was kind of like, for Germany, an independent producer. And that decision alone made it possible to create a completely different kind of film. But of course along the road, there were like many challenges because of course even if people hadn’t read the book, they knew of the book. And we had all kinds of problems, for example, even finding some locations, like finding the location of this one small church scene was nearly impossible because people were really scared with the title of the movie.
Q: Why do you think the character was so comfortable with bodily fluids?
DW: There’s no real easy answer to that. Y see her background, you see her trauma of her childhood, but the good thing is you can’t reduce her to that, so it’s not such an easy explanation, like that something happened to her in her childhood and that’s why she’s like that. That’s just one small part of her. But in the end, she finds herself. She also enjoys sex, she enjoys her body and she’s interested in everything that has to do with her body, and she doesn’t understand why this should be so taboo.
Q: I was wondering how much Charlotte Roche, the author of the book, was involved in the movie or the post production?
DW: She decided she didn’t want to be involved at all but she was really just wanted to see the final product in the cinema, and that was fine. But what she did was she took that decision I told you about, she chose that producer. There she set us on a path, which allows us to create the film in the way it is right now so that was really a very important decision she made. But other than that she was not involved in writing the script, so she really only saw the final product at the end.
Q: Where did you find the actress who played the main character, Helen?
DW: Well we had the regular, normal casting process. We had also a casting director, who made suggestions, and we looked all around. And she’s actually from Switzerland, so we didn’t just look in Germany but in other German-speaking countries. And we had them come to Berlin and we did regular casting sessions. And in these sessions I tried to find out if they were able to play all the different aspects of that character. For example, one aspect was the language, because the language of the novel and the dialects was a very special kind of language, and it was not a natural language in a way, so the actor had to be able to bring it across in a natural fashion. That was one thing. She also had to have the courage to play this role. She had to have the courage to be nude in front of the camera of course. And she had to be able to act with the other actors of course. So we set up casting sessions to find out exactly that. And so, in the end, Carla Juri, the main actress, she was the one who convinced me in these sessions.
Q: Is Quentin Tarantino a popular director in Germany?
DW: Yeah, very much so.
Q: Member: I’m not familiar with German cinema, but this film strikes the same nerve that Tarantino does.
DW: That’s a very big compliment so thank you very much. And we have many American films in our cinemas.
Q: I really like the animation sequence towards the beginning, that was really nice. Two questions, can you describe what metaphors you were trying to describe in there, and, also, how was that done?
DW: Well, one part of her quest, for her freedom to express everything about her own body, but of also she’s against too much hygiene basically. So to show this, in a bit of an exaggerated and kind of ironic fashion, we came up with this animation short in the beginning. And it was just a very good animation artist who could bring this to life, so we just delivered the shot of the toilet and with that he did all the rest basically.
Q: How long ago did you read the novel and then actually want to develop it into the film? Then how long was that process?
DW: Um, the novel itself is I think six years old, it was published six years ago and I read it four years ago. And at that time, I would never have thought of doing this film. I was still in film school at that time, and actually, the rights were with the producer, and then he chose a director for this film. He liked my first movie, my graduation film from film school, and that’s how we got together. But I really liked the book long before I was about doing it, turning it into a film.
Q: Is this your first feature?
DW: It’s my second feature, my first feature was my graduation one.
Q: I’m just curious, what were some movies that you drew inspiration from?
DW: Well, the producer has the vision when he talked about the film, but that it should be a mixture of Nine Songs and Trainspotting. That was the goal.
Q: Was the author happy with your interpretation?
DW: Lucky for me, she was. So I was really, extremely nervous when she was finally there, in the cinema. I was really, very, very scared. Because she’s very much known to my generation. She was a TV presenter on MTV basically. As a teenager, I grew up with her on TV. I really admired her. So it would have been really terrible if I were to have disappointed her in a way. But luckily she saw the film and was very, very happy. Even the things we added on, we invented some scenes, some scenes are in the book, they’re really just one line, very, very short, we turned into an actual scene, let it play out, she was really happy with that. She, in the end, wasn’t sure what was actually in the book and what we invent. That was a really great compliment.
Q: Was there any point when you thought we can’t actually go that far or show this in a movie?
DW: Yeah. Obviously that wasn’t the biggest concern. From the start it was clear that I didn’t want to make the most provocative of the movie, it’s not what the movie’s about, for the only point to be shocking. And actually during the shooting, I was busy with all other problems there was, work with the actors, all kind of problems that just come up, I wasn’t constantly thinking about that aspect. So there was a little more in the editing, where we just found a way to do it in the best sense of the shooting. I was occupied with other stuff.
Q: On that same note, the film with all the in your face movement , in the scenes you happened to do it, did you do it several different ways, then edit it and figure out what you wanted to go with?
DW: It’s really different from the scenes. Some scenes which we storyboarded, especially if it had an effect or so, were very much planned. Other scenes where we had an emotion or it was about feeling the chemistry between two actors we tried to find something to give them freedom. So complete freedom to move around on set, we had the camera on the shoulder, most of the lighting was done on the windows, so they could move everywhere and the camera could see everything. And with this kind of shooting you have more material, you develop the rhythm and the scene itself in the editing room. But other things, they were really much planned ahead.