Michael – Movie Review
By Ron Wilkinson Feb 17, 2012, 15:01 GMT
A drama focused on five months in the life of pedophile who keeps a 10-year-old boy locked in his basement. ...more
A courageous essay on the power of the childlike and the horror of dysfunctional adulthood.
After handling the casting for Michael Haneke’s “White Ribbon,” new director/writer Markus Schleinzer knew how to cast children. Watching Haneke, one assumes he knew how to direct children, as well. As a casting director for over sixty films over a span of sixteen years, he was exposed to more than his share of horror films.
Put that all together and you have the perfect background for a horror film of excellent subtly and power. Gird yourself for this one; “Michael” is about a pedophile who holds a ten-year-old boy captive in his basement for five months. Just as importantly, it is about the boy who comes to exert a power over the man that is as subtle as it is lethal.
Going into this film, the viewer has read the synopsis and knows the subject matter. However, this will not prepare anyone for the footage that follows. Michael is a 35-year-old pedophile working as a low-level insurance processor in an Austrian city. His life in the office is normal, too normal. His solitary life style could be judged shyness.
In fact, he probably is very shy but he is keeping a horrible secret. Michael has kidnapped and imprisoned a boy in his basement and is forcing himself on the child sexually.
There has never been a more profound arc of a protagonist in any screenplay. There is the “Bell Jar” development of a woman slowly being driven insane by her own internal demons. The more normal Michael tries to act the less successful he is. The more thoroughly he works out his horrendous lifestyle, the less in control he is. The more he tries to tell himself he is doing the right thing, the more he secretly wishes he were dead.
Michael Fuith plays Michael and does a first rate job of being supremely superficially normal while bottling up a cauldron of illness inside. His prisoner, Wolfgang, is played by David Rauchenberger. Both of these actors do fine jobs, but ten-year-old David Rauchenberger shows a maturity well beyond his years as the young boy who grows up in captivity.
Schleinzer uses a stripped down mis-en-scene that speaks for itself. Much of the footage is shot in Michael’s basement and in the specially built room in which he imprisons the boy. Michael has worked out all of the details. The room is very comfortable and equipped with food, cooking and toilet facilities. The room is a bedroom and a prison cell at the same time. In the same way, Michael’s life is normal and abnormal.
The room contrasts with the walks and weekend excursions Michael has with Wolfgang. The man has subdued the boy, brainwashed the child to the degree required for them to appear in public as a father and son. There is no exploitation in this film. The screenplay and directing tell the story straight; the audience is left to make the judgments.
Michael has only superficial relationships with people throughout the story. As we grow to know him, we grow to hate and demonize him more and more. In the beginning we get a brief glimpse of his sister to whom he tells lies about an imaginary girlfriend who lives hundreds of miles away. It is not until the end that we meet his mother and come to the shocking realization that Michael is not a monster; he is a human being with a family that loves him.
There is another entire film that runs through the minds of those in the audience when they imagine the impact Michael’s secret would have on the lives of his family members when, and if, his secret ever came out. He is killing them as he is killing himself.
The plainness of the sets and the bland washed-out nature of the lighting allow Schleinzer to focus the shots completely on the characters. The outside world shrinks to a tunnel-vision view of reality as we are forced inside Michael’s mind.
The music sound track is a skillfully chosen blend of mechanistically arranged soft pop that contrasts the whimsy of a normal childhood with the sickness that exists in today's walking dead. As Michael loses his soul he becomes a well-preserved zombie as Wolfgang develops, beyond his control, into an adult.
Although they have very little screen time, supporting actors Christine Kain and Ursula Strauss, as Michael’s mother and sister, do a superb job. It is the contrast between their genuine, unknowing caring of Michael and the saccharine relationships he has with the rest of the world that cements his vision in our minds.
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Directed and Written by: Markus Schleinzer
Starring: Michael Fuith, David Rauchenberger, Ursula Strauss and Christine Kain
Release Date: February 15, 2012
MPAA: Not Rated
Running Time: 96 Minutes
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