Directed by: Markus Schleinzer.
Written by: Markus Schleinzer.
Starring: Michael Fuith (Michael), David Rauchenberger (Wolfgang), Christine Kain (Mother), Ursula Strauss (Sister), Victor Tremmel (Brother-in-law), Gisella Salcher (Christa).
There have been many movies about the banality of evil over the years – but few that take that concept so seriously as Markus Schleinzer’s Michael, which may just be the most disturbing film you will see this year. The film is a portrait of a pedophile as that bland unforgettable neighbour or co-worker that you never spare an extra thought to. To the outside world, Michael is a quiet loner. But he is also a monster, who keeps a 10 year old boy locked in his basement to use as his own personal plaything.
Written and directed by first-timer Markus Schleinzer, Michael certainly takes some lessons for his fellow countrymen – Michael Haneke. The film is cold and passes no judgment on Michael. In fact, the films cold style echoes Michael’s behavior. Whether he’s at work as, in an insurance firm (hell, at least he’s not an accountant), doing his household chores, eating his dinner or heading downstairs to his victim, his movements are precise – he values order over everything else. And Schleinzer’s visual style – long takes, slow tracking shots or no movement at all, mirrors Michael’s movements precisely. The point is to try to put us into Michael’s sick, yet ordered, mind. And it works brilliantly – which makes the movie even more disturbing than it otherwise would be.
Michael is so disturbing because it is so matter of fact about how its main character is and what he does. The movie does not go out of its way to try and shock the audience. The movie is restrained, in that it never shows us Michael molesting his young charge, although it does show the two interact. Once Michael “secures” the house, making sure no one can get or see into the house, he lets the young boy upstairs to eat dinner and watch TV. At the beginning of the movie, Michael already has the kid, and he seems respectful of Michael – not wanting to anger him. But as the movie goes along, the kid gets more and more bold. It starts in a scene where Michael quotes a line from a movie that he thinks is funny - “This is my cock, and this is my knife. Which one should I stick into you?” – and the kid doesn’t hesitate to answer – “The knife”. With the wind out of his sails, Michael sits back down in silence. As the kid gets bolder, Michael sets out to find his “replacement”.
The movie only gives us Michael’s point of view – meaning to put the audience into his head, which is a place that few audience members will want to go. And yet, it is this identification that Schleinzer forces upon the audience that makes the movie as effective as it is. Many audience members will resist – and see this movie, even without any graphic scenes, as merely exploitation. But if you go along with the movie, it becomes one of the most disturbing movie going experiences in recent memory – it doesn’t seek to forgive Michael, or condone his actions, but it does seek to make the audience squirm, and identify more closely with this sort of character than they want to. If you’re willing to go along with it, you may just find, like I did, that the movie refuses to leave you alone after its over – that you go over it again and again in your head.
I have a feeling some audience members are not going to be happy with the ending, which while it certainly punishes Michael, does so in a way some audiences will feel lets Michael off the hook too much. And the final shot in the movie will frustrate some who want more answers than the movie gives. Yet to me, both decisions work. Michael’s punishment is fitting, and doesn’t feel like it’s merely tacked on, but develops naturally. As for the very end, there is no possibility of a happy ending – but the director does leave it to the audience to choose between two bleak endings. Really, how else do you think a movie as disturbing as Michael to end?