This adaptation of Charlotte Roche’s notorious erotic-comic novel was hands down the funniest, punkiest film at this year’s Etrange Festival. Merrily life-affirming, with life in this case meaning spunk, shit and blood, it stars the spirited Carla Juri as a wonderfully individual 18-year-old girl with a particular affection for grime, sex and bodily secretions.
While she is being treated for an anal fissure in hospital, an occasion she is naïvely trying to use to reunite her divorced parents, she reminisces about various episodes of her past, from her dysfunctional childhood to her various experimentations with sex and drugs. Her candid lack of inhibitions both startles and fascinates the male nurse looking after her, Robin, and they begin to grow closer.
The film possesses the same charm as its heroine: the gross-out comedy – from the initial toilet scene (which recalls Trainspotting with a female twist), to the pizza masturbation or the menstrual blood oath – is irresistible, because it is all done with such wide-eyed innocence and childlike matter-of-factness. Nothing about the body repels Helen, and even though there shouldn’t be anything shocking about that, in our sanitized culture the presentation on screen of a female character’s slimy adventures was enough to trigger initially slightly stunned, then boisterous laughter in the Etrange Festival crowd.
Helen is a truly great creation, as embodied by Carla Juri. Playing the character with bold abandon and spontaneity, Juri is utterly convincing, naturally inhabiting the role. Endearingly full of contradictions, Helen is strong and vulnerable, dirty and innocent, tender and selfish, brave and irresponsible, poignantly poised between childhood and adulthood. But above all else she is irreducibly herself, and as such is immune to the pressures of social norms and rules, which makes spending 105 minutes in her company heartily invigorating.
The only minor disappointment is a simplistic rose-coloured ending that is at odds with, and somewhat undermines, the radical singularity of the character. Admittedly the film follows – and subverts – the conventions of romantic comedy, but Helen’s perspective on sex, love and femininity is so mordantly fresh that it is a shame she is forced to fit into a standard, predictable conclusion. This, however, does not detract from the overall effect of the film, which is a big blast of filthy energy.
Watch the trailer: