MICHAEL (18): On General Release Friday 2nd March
All the more disturbing for its focus on the quotidian as opposed to the visually shocking, Markus Schleinzer’s debut directorial effort tells the story of a secret paedophile and his basement-bound charge.
Michael (Michael Futih) is a 35-year-old insurance salesman. He lives his life quietly in a beige bungalow, wearing a beige suit which perfectly befits his beige personality. You know that quiet guy who sits in the corner of the office minding his own business? He’s just like him.
Except this quiet guy once kidnapped a small boy and has him incarcerated in his basement.
Inspired by numerous real life cases (Josef Fritzl for one), Austrian writer/director, Schleinzer, sought to challenge the public’s desire to “pigeonhole” child-molesting monsters by presenting his paedophile as a normal bloke; Michael is not just a paedophile, he is also an uncle, a brother, a son, a hardworker and a friend.
In refusing to exploit its vile premise to achieve any misplaced shock factor, Schleinzer’s quiet film is successful in transmitting the full horror of its subject through the banality of daily routine. Whether shopping for groceries, driving to work or taking a skiing trip, it is the knowledge that this man is able to function in spite of his heinous crime which strikes horror into our hearts.
Michael stands at the sink washing himself after what we presume to have been a sexual encounter with ten-year-old young Wolfgang ( David Rauchenberger), or sits serenely watching the young boy scrub the floor in scenes which are far stronger for their lack of reliance upon “shocking” reconstructions.
The film’s obsession with food is one of the most striking tricks it uses to convey its depressing story and the extent to which our characters are starved of vitality. Michael’s compulsive eating punctuates the film at uncomfortably regular intervals but nothing seems to suppress his hunger. Never has food looked so unfulfilling.
The lack of “heart-wrenching” psychological insight makes this film horrifically efficient in delivering its stark message. Lingering shots, muted colours and the absence of any sound track (bar the blackly comic use of Boney M’s disco classic Sunny), make this film a difficult but incredibly powerful watch.