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This film is an incredible, original and totally unexpected piece of work. Given the subject matter audiences may assume that this would be pure exploitation or self-consciously 'dark' or 'edgy' but the film is full of ambiguity and subtlety and the director does an amazing job of keeping distant and matter-of-fact about the characters without leering or over-dramatics. Recently there have been a number of films which attempt (sometimes desperately) to be disturbing or provocative with degrees of explicitness , the originality of Michael is it's lack of explicitness or exploitation (if it was any other form of relationship it would be rated PG) which gives it a unique and unsettling tone. The film is full of little details and memorable moments which linger and is closed by an unexpected ending which moves from tense to calm then back to tense, all with a subtlety and pace alien to Hollywood.
I feel a little sick and a lot disturbed, but mostly, incredibly
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?
Well my Daily Mail reading readers, you can relax, Michael is anything but a sympathetic character although, you may be disappointed that he has neither horns nor tail.
The complexities of the relationship between Michael and his 'houseguest' are fascinating, as it slowly dawns on you how easy it could be to manipulate a child into being a complicit captive, and exactly how many basements out there in fact have a missing child within?
So much of your ninety-four minutes of viewing 'pleasure' is consumed with such sobering and vile thoughts, while the rest is filled with some very dark humour indeed as there's nothing funnier than seeing a pedophile get stuck in the off-piste snow. Believe me, there isn't.
The film itself is flawless, and there are certain moments in and amongst its day-to-day mundanity that reveal themselves as a masterclass in subtle suspense.
This would happily sit right up there on your 'challenging' DVD shelf alongside Dogtooth which is another fine film that reveals the worlds that people carve for themselves when the shutters come down and all that's left is you, the awkward man and his penis.
The subject of paedophilia is naturally never going to be a topic that
has people rushing out to theatres. It is what it is and it rightly
induces horror and repulsion in straight thinking adults. Yet to simply
stick our heads in the sand and ignore the issue is never the way to
go, thankfully some directors are prepared to take up the hot baton and
produce pictures to trouble and provoke thought in equal measure.
Austrian film maker Markus Schleinzer has produced one such film, which
is incredibly bold for his debut feature.
Story explores the relationship between a middle aged paedophile played by Michael Fuith and the young boy he keeps locked in a secret basement room at his home, the youngster played by David Rauchenberger. The youngster is not held in some dark and damp room with no light, he is not chained up, Michael has in his own mind provided a loving and healthy home for his captive. He clearly loves the boy, watches TV with him, cooks him meals that they then eat together as if a "normal" couple. It's this banality that is so chilling, where coupled with how we see Michael functioning as a normal hard working man by day, really gnaws away at the senses.
Thankfully, and rightly, the sexual abuse side of things is not shown, nobody wants to see that. The horror comes in the implications, or the aftermath and preludes to what our mind's eye is being prompted to create. There are extended periods of silence throughout the picture, often dialogue is clipped and kept to minimum to urge the viewers to piece together what is going through Michael's mind. This is the strength of Schleinzer's movie, he's not judging or sermonising, he's presenting a scenario that on the surface to the people outside of Michael's basement secret, is normality, and it's that that is harrowing. Monsters live and move amongst us, fact! But how come we never notice them? It's this that Schleinzer so subtlety has his film prod us with.
A bunk bed construction scene has never been so chilling as it is here, and you may - like me - never be able to listen to Boney M again without your mind wandering elsewhere. It's a tough film, it has to be, but it's expertly crafted without exploitation tendencies by the director and performed with skill by the two principles. To simply call it sick and disgusting is a cop out, the makers deserve a bit more credit than that. It's intelligent and balanced and does a fine job of provoking reaction from the audience. 8/10
So, this movie is about a pedophile who's keeping a child in his
basement. It's such a terrifying setup that initially I decided against
seeing it. Then I read some very positive media reviews, which also
mentioned there was nothing graphic, and so I decided to give it a go.
(They also called it "darkly humorous", which I didn't see at all.)
When I first saw the kid's face, I almost turned it off- like I said, this is an extremely disturbing premise. I actually kind of wish I did; I had been expecting something different, like a police scenario, or some back story about him (we don't get any history of Michael or Wolfgang.) Once you see Wolfgang, you just have to watch and hope he is going to end up better off. I couldn't turn off the movie with him in that situation (yes, I know it's not real, but we also know things like this do happen in the real world.)
But rest assured there is no sexual contact between the man and the boy pictured in the movie- not even hugs or embraces- even though there's no doubt about what's going on. There is one scene where Michael takes out his penis, but it's about six feet away from Wolfgang, and it's not a sexual thing- he's actually making a weird joke (and it was shot in split screen so the young actor wasn't present for it.) The only explicit violence is against Michael, so you don't care, and even then it's not graphic.
Michael is not only a pedophile, but as far as I can tell, a sociopath. This is a different representation of a pedophile than Todd Solonz's "Happiness" where the pedophile does seem to have empathy and shame. Michael is absolutely without either of these emotions. There's also something very "off" about him (you know, besides being a sociopathic pedophile), as shown in his social life and sense of humor.
The movie is slow but not boring. It's very taut, and the ending had me holding my breath to see what would happen. (Some have said it's ambiguous, I didn't think so, but if you read the comments about the movie you'll get the director's view of what the ending was supposed to mean.) I wanted more denouement, but the comments also explain why the director chose to end the movie where he did. The acting is absolutely amazing. Michael Fuith is mesmerizing and brings out the banality of evil very skilfully.
I usually do well with disturbing movies, but this was a stretch for me. I avoid anything with graphic violence against children, and this does indeed fit that criterion, but it is about something so terrible that anyone who is not disturbed has something wrong with them, in my opinion. That said, I think people can still appreciate this movie as a well-written and well-acted one. I wouldn't recommend this for anyone with children; I just can't imagine having a child and watching this movie.
Late on in this ice-cold drama from
casting-director-turned-writer-director Markus Schleinzer, a character
describes the titular character as, amongst other things, "impatient".
By now we the audience has come to know Michael (Michael Fuith). That
is, we know his routines; his day-to-day lifestyle; his attention to
detail; his agonising PATIENCE. For the last 90 minutes we've watched
him as he leads an unremarkable life around a remarkably evil secret:
there's a child in his basement, for use as a lover and a son. But no
one really knows Michael - perhaps not even Michael himself.
This is challenging viewing. Schleinzer has the same objective eye as Michael Haneke (with whom he worked on The White Ribbon), and the same devious wit. He uses his simple images reflectively, making the observer (re)consider their own assumptions and prejudices.
What's most disturbing about this film is not that it is wall-to-wall creepy, but how dreadfully normal everything seems. Outside the underground lair, the activities of Michael and Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger) appear on the surface to be those of an only child and a grumpy parent. We're helpless observers in this quietly unfolding nightmare.
Whether Michael is any more than an extended exercise in discomfort is debatable. It doesn't attempt to explore the psychology of its central character, as a film like The Woodsman does. It certainly doesn't provide any possibility of redemption. But there's an inarguable truth in the humanisation of this monster, and that's what makes this film valuable - even if it is the furthest thing from entertainment you'll ever see.
Austrian casting director, actor and director Markus Schleinzer's
feature film debut which he wrote, premiered In competition at the 64th
Cannes International Film Festival in 2011, was screened in the
Contemporary World Cinema section at the 36th Toronto International
Film Festival in 2011 and is an Austrian production which was produced
by producers Markus Glaser, Nikolaus Gehrhalter, Michael Kitzberger and
Wolfgang Widerhofer. It tells the story about Michael, a seemingly
normal, sociable and dutiful citizen who secretly holds a 10-year-old
boy named Wolfgang kidnapped in his house. Neither Michael's family
members, neighbours or colleagues has any idea of what is going on.
Michael treats Wolfgang as if he was his son, uses him as an object for
his paedophile fantasies and thinks he is in total control of his
adolescent victim, but Wolfgang knows that his parents is waiting for
him and he is dead set on finding a way out of his captivity.
Distinctly and precisely directed by Austrian filmmaker Markus Schleinzer, this surreal and nuanced fictional tale which is mostly narrated from the protagonist's point of view, draws a singular portrayal of a middle-aged insurance company worker's revolting and forced relationship with a defenceless young boy. While notable for its naturalistic and atmospheric milieu depictions, colorful production design by production designers Gerhard Dohr and Katrin Duber, cinematography by cinematographer Gerard Kerkletch, editing by Austrian producer, writer and film editor Wolfgang Widerhofer and the distinct and very efficient use of colors, this absurdly humorous and atmospheric drama depicts a condensed study of character and contains a good and comical score by German composer Lorenz Dangel.
This rhythmic, mysterious and at times very unsettling, which it should be and is also intended to be, story which turns into a psychological mind battle between a child molester and his hostage and which has a very fresh approach to a theme that is often, in films, portrayed in a much bleaker manner, is impelled and reinforced by its subtle character development, cogent narrative structure and the commendable acting performances by Austrian actor Michael Fuit, David Rauchenberger in his debut feature film role and actress Gisella Salcher. A quick-witted and picturesque directorial debut which gained, among other awards, the Vienna Film Award for Best Feature Film at the Viennale in 2011.
First let's say it, "Yikes". This is a minutely-observed, low-keyed, dispassionate movie about the domestic life of a pedophile and the little boy he keeps captive in his basement. (Again, "Yikes"). But it is certainly not without wit, and a kind of wry "fly on the wall" style that keeps one engaged even though the proceedings are kept on a low boil intentionally. (Thank God). The phrase "the banality of evil", comes to mind constantly, and I think it is not entirely coincidental that this is an Austrian film. The lack of histrionics, however, does not mean that the film lacks drama. Certainly not in fact it does create , at times, an almost unbearable tension. It has been compared many times to Haneke's "Funny Games", but in fact I find it far more subversive than that, as the Haneke film depends very much on a Brechtian "alienation" effect, whereby the filmmaker lets his audience know that he is intentionally manipulating them. "Michael" provides no easy "outs", and is, to my mind, a far more disturbing, compelling exercise. Truly a shocker, and extraordinarily well-done. Bravo. (But it is not for the timid).
Loosely based on a horrific true story of an Austrian man who kept a girl in his cellar for the best part of two decades, 'Michael' is a film I avoided watching for a long time in part because I feared it would simply prove too unpleasant. In fact, it's watchable and (mostly) understated: its (fictional) villain less a pure monster, more just an isolated person who decides to set up their own life the way they want to, and to keep a child as one would keep a pet. Even then, his incapacity for emotion (towards the child, or indeed, for anybody else) is striking, which partly explains his appalling actions. I don't know how the details of this story reflect on the actual tale; but it seems a believable portrait of how someone could come to act in this way. The film is low budget: some of the scenes may be shot as they are to save filming them more expensively, although the advantage is that the audience is encouraged to concentrate on what matters, not some lush background. The ending is premature disappointing dramatically but what's more interesting is how much I cared to see what happened next: 'Michael' might not literally be docu-drama, but it convinces as a portrait of evil as the absence of empathy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The film is Michael,(2011) Directed and written by Markus Schleinzer, I
viewed it in it's original German, with Spanish subtitles. All this did
not help me a bit in understanding what was going on. I watched it
almost without words Everything was so low key The words were not
missed. Spoiler Alert. This is a disturbing film, but it is well
crafted and presented. It deals with a ten year old boy, Wolfgang,
played by David Rauchenburger, held captive in the basement of Michael,
an insurance adjuster, played by Michael Fuith.
Michael clearly considers himself a caring guardian, feeding the boy, providing books and entertainments, There is absolutely non of the more lurid aspects of child abuse depicted sexual or otherwise, although it is strongly inferred. The movie presents a sterile emotionless relationship, an off kilter version of "playing house" making believe the bolted door does not exist.
Wolfgang is a clever young lad, and knows what needs be done to survive his ordeal, he bides his time. Michael's life away from Wolfgang, consists of the day to day routines of going to work, being social at the office, and looking totally normal. The movie takes it's time. There are long cuts where the subjects are motionless. I had to check my system to see if it stalled out, as it sometimes does on you tube movies. No, it was shot with a casual regard for time or storytelling, and yet it held my attention (waiting for something to happen) Life steps in, The ending where we are to guess as to whether the boy lives or dies,is suppose to be ambiguous, but not in my book. An earnest and disturbing second film. I give it Eight out of ten "Art House" Stars. If you have a short attention span, skip it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This made me feel very uncomfortable at times but I was riveted until
the final credits.
The most disturbing thing about it is how the film seems to be able to make me as a viewer come close to identifying with this monstrous person. I think it does this by creating a cold and distant, even sterile production, with undramatic and bland lighting, detailed sound and repressed, understated acting. By the time we get to that truly awful funeral service everything is so hollow, that the realistic look of the film is actually more like a nightmare and it's almost like looking at the worst kind of pornography.
And that irritatingly sunny version of "Sunny" (shouldn't it be "Sonny" as in Sonny and Cher?) is still going round in my head.
I also wonder if it's a coincidence that the title is "Michael" when it looks so much like a Michael Haneke film?
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