Michael* Review

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Score

A truly unsettling portrait of an everyday cypher imprisoned by his own inhuman urges.

Returning home one evening, Michael (Michael Fuith) shares a meal with surly 10-year-old Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger), lets the boy watch TV until nine then puts him to bed. Later, he unlocks Wolfgang’s downstairs room – the camera lingering for a beat on the door closed behind him.

Michael is next seen washing his cock in the upstairs bathroom and putting a strange mark in his diary. Cut to the title and to the realisation that this bland, anal-retentive insurance salesman has been keeping the abducted Wolfgang in his basement as a sex slave, possibly for some years.

Markus Schleinzer’s directorial debut is an austere Austrian tale of domestic imprisonment and abuse that evokes two of the nation’s causes célèbres: the notoriously calculating real-life paedophile, Josef Fritzl, and Austria’s arch filmmaking provocateur, Michael Haneke.

The latter is thanked in the closing credits, for Michael has been forged in the Haneke mould, treating its incendiary material with an aloof, banalising calm and withholding any overt judgment or moral standpoint.

When Wolfgang complains that there are two pieces missing from his jigsaw set, Michael’s response, "You can still see what it is", encapsulates Schleinzer’s elliptical approach to filmmaking. As the camera tracks Michael from a cool distance, we see a man whose relations outside the home – commercial, familial, social, even sexual – seem ordinary, even successful.

But it is Wolfgang, missing from all these scenes, whose very absence furnishes the bigger picture and creates real tension the longer he remains unseen. Conversely, although Schleinzer thankfully avoids any graphic presentation of sexual abuse, he none the less shows a relationship which, settled into a veneer of wary normalcy and routine, is clearly rooted in control, confinement and cruelty – and so leaves the viewer to fill in the unspeakable blanks.

It is a truly unsettling portrait of an everyday cypher imprisoned by his own inhuman urges and without even a hint of tabloid demonisation.

Anticipation

Be afraid: Schleinzer is Haneke’s favourite casting director...

2

Enjoyment

Abusive horror and Boney M’s ‘Sunny’? Win-win.

4

In Retrospect

Cool surface, unspeakable depths.

4
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Recommended*

View 2 comments

Anton Bitel

2 years ago
There is, though, something pathetic (and also comic, I think) about Michael's drab ordinariness. For sympathetic paedophiles, see e.g. the amazing L.I.E., The Woodsman, (maybe) Happiness and, er, the original The Italian Job...

TheBackseatDirector

2 years ago
I think when you buy a ticket for a film which has a pedophile for a protagonist, there’s always that possibility that it might be a sympathetic portrayal; that beneath the monstrous outside, inside he’s just a misunderstood kitten. I mean, surely, if ogres can be like onions, then pedophiles can be like physalis – a juicy centre fully enclosed in a large papery husk? But for sure, there's nothing sympathetic about Michael.
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