Film & TV

Wetlands Star Carla Juri Lends Refreshing Humanity to NSFW Role

The Wetlands film poster proudly states it's "the most WTF, NSFW movie at this year's Sundance Film Festival." The mind jumps to curiosity or disgust almost immediately, but that's unsurprising coming from David Wnendt's film based on Charlotte Roche's sexually charged novel of the same name.

It's a story about a young woman named Helen who has a rather strange perspective on how sexuality and hygiene should work, but it's far deeper than what all the shocking images and a few negative reviews might have you think.

As abundant in sexuality as Wetlands is, it's a rare film that actually places a young woman's body in her own command, never succumbing to the male gaze and remaining refreshingly sex-positive. Speaking to the talented actress Carla Juri, who plays the teenage lead, we discussed a lot of what made Helen an interesting character to dive into.

"I never thought Helen was this horrible thing that everyone said she was," the 29-year-old says, explaining just how much the press loathed the novel and claimed whoever played the role was a disgrace to human beings. "When I heard that, I thought, OK, that's a story to be told!"

And it certainly proves to be quite the coming-of-age narrative to tell, often confronting the audience with uncomfortable sexual and emotional scenarios. But the nudity that comes with the role didn't bother Juri — it felt natural for her character to embrace that part of her humanity. "There's reason for it, you know? I wanted it to be challenging for myself, and I wanted women to believe me," she says. "Her nakedness is also her emotional nakedness, kind of her raw state of being."

More important, especially in a time when society gawks at nude photos of celebrities, none of the nudity in the film comes off as something to fantasize about. "It wasn't voyeuristic. Nothing we did was for the sake of a fantasy, because she doesn't do it for anyone's fantasy," Juri affirms. Helen is a character who does things for herself in trying to find her own happiness, and it's something that shows. "I was doing it because she's like that. It would be boring to be voyeuristic again, because we've seen that enough. The film is more experimental, more raw, and more rebellious than that."

But shedding her clothes wasn't a big deal for the actress; the challenges came from other sources. "It was the night shoots and working at 4 o'clock in the morning when you can't concentrate because of the circumstance. That's when it becomes tricky and you have to pull through," she says. Before shooting, though, she went back to school to fall into the teenage mind of Helen.

"I had to make sure to respond to Helen, but it was good because no one knew me and I got to try things out and see how kids are. The costume designer would experiment with me, and I tried out a lot of costumes and sometimes the kids would look at me like, 'What the fuck are you wearing?'" she laughs, before adding that she would even throw in piercings on occasion. "Girls would come up to me and say, 'Oh, your piercing looks really good, Helen,' and I felt bad because it was all fake, but it was a really warm and surprising welcome."

As interesting as it was for Juri to play Helen, and as enjoyable as it is to watch her in Wetlands, the actress is already researching one of her upcoming roles for a new film. "It's about a female expressionist painter whose name is Paula Modersohn-Becker. She was a German and spent a lot of time in Paris doing her work, and she's such an interesting woman." It's the kind of story that sounds like an immense change from her film this year, but one that sounds promising.

For now, American audiences can relish this delightful coming-of-age tale if they believe they've got the stomach for it. As nuanced as it can be in portraying the way young adults struggle to find themselves, it's also the kind of film that features four men masturbating onto a pizza in slow-motion while Johann Strauss' waltz "The Blue Danube" plays. That being said, Wetlands is worth checking out, especially to witness Juri's solid performance.