Milwaukee Film Festival | Wetlands and Like Father, Like Son
Can't Stop the Movies
8Oct/140

Milwaukee Film Festival (#5) – Wetlands (Germany), and Like Father, Like Son (Japan)

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Wetlands – Dir. David Wnendt (5/5)

Wetlands is the kind of movie you could dissect a little more harshly if you really wanted to, but why would you want to? Based on a controversial debut novel by Charlotte Roche and directed with a kind of unbound cinematic joy by David Wnendt, this was one of the most purely enjoyable screening experiences at the festival (and while opportunities are likely to be slim, seeing it with an audience is well worth it).

Helen—played by Carla Juri, who only has a handful of other credits on IMDB but is outstanding here—is an 18 year old girl who, in her own words, “could care less about hygiene” but is fascinated with the bodily functions, fluids, and other typically taboo specifics that go along with sexuality. There are some early scenes that nearly necessitate the creation of a new word for “vulgar.” Yet what makes Wetlands kind of great is that it's not a gross-out comedy or a shock-fest—the audience will definitely feel both grossed out and shocked at times, but more because of Helen's casual comfort with the grimier aspects of human bodily function. And I wish I had a better word for “grimy,” because the film treats her exploration of these aspects of her own sexuality completely without judgement—if we're uncomfortable, that's our own problem.

The story involves, loosely, Helen's attempts to reunite her divorced parents, as well as a burgeoning relationship with a nurse at the hospital she's admitted to for...well you'll see. Wnendt captures what I imagine is the free-flowing, associative structure of the novel (which I ordered after watching the movie) with frequent jumps back and forth between Helen's present and memories from both the near and distant past. We're never really very concerned with her parents reuniting, but that's ok because her wish for a traditional family structure is just a symptom of deeper problems the film eventually reveals. It does all this with a zeal and forward momentum that perfectly captures Helen's spontaneity and curiosity, and that's what makes everything so flawlessly entertaining.

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Like Father, Like Son – Dir. Hirokazu Koreeda (3/5)

The premise of Like Father, Like Son is not especially unique: two families discover that a hospital error years ago led to their newborn sons accidentally being switched at birth, and they've since been raising the others' biological children. What they decide to do, and what this means for the parents—specifically the father played by Masaharu Fukuyama—is the film's way of examining questions of nature vs. nurture and larger ideas about the bonds that make a family. That one family is fairly wealthy and the other is not is common in these types of stories, allowing for a comparative look at how socio-economic status influences values and behavior.

Like Father, Like Son has very good moments, and it also has some slower ones. The pacing isn't always consistent, which has the odd effect of making the movie seem as unsure of where it's going as the audience. The acting is uniformly good, especially Fukuyama and Machiko Ono, who play the upper-class couple, and the ending, while it will undoubtedly be unsatisfying for some, avoids any overly tidy or sentimental pitfalls. This isn't doing anything particularly new, but Koreeda has a good feel for this kind of family drama and it's successful when it needs to be.

***Like Father, Like Son is currently on Netflix Instant, and is available to rent on Amazon here.

*Next Update (Tomorrow, Friday, Oct. 10) – Francois Ozon's Young & Beautiful, Rory Kennedy's new documentary Last Days in Vietnam, and Workers.

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Posted by Danny Reid

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