Michael: Suggesting the worst
by Domenico La Porta
15/05/2011 - Although this is his directorial debut in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival, Austrian director Markus Schleinzer has been a regular on the red carpet as Michael Hanneke’s casting director since The Pianist. And the influence of the great director is clearly palpable in Michael [trailer]. With its taboo subject and the manner in which it is treated, the film holds a close artistic link with Todd Solondz’s Happiness and a direct link to the recent Natascha Kampusch affair in Austria.
Michael recounts the relationship between an ordinary man (Michael Fuith) and young boy (David Rauchenberger) who he keeps locked up in a cellar and sexually abuses. From these disturbing premises, Schleinzer constructs a film directed without pretention, focused on the daily life of the two protagonists.
He films routine with disconcerting neutrality, lending only minor significance to sordid details and temporal references. In so doing, reference is never made to the confinement, but an attempt on another child anticipates the method and the brainwashing that follows. For Schleinzer, suggestion is more important than explanation. As a result, dialogue is kept to a minimum, which suggests a relationship between a paedophile and his victim however manipulated he is. The subversive nature of the relationship is constantly anesthetised by a treatment based on observation without, however, venturing into unhealthy voyeurism.
For Schleinzer, the detention resembles a dysfunctional household with attributes of both a couple and a single-parent family. The characters watch television together, eat together and do the dishes together. Michael even brings his victim on an excursion and does jigsaw puzzles and has snowball fights with him.
Yet every evening, the young boy is taken home to his underground prison, the door locked securely behind him. The victim is abused regularly, an act the paedophile marks later with a small cross scrawled on a calendar. The torturer is organised and manipulating, yet his character is not quite as evil as those portrayed in suspense thrillers. And it is from the power of Michael’s “normality” that the horror emanates.
Throughout the film, Schleinzer plays on his audience’s expectations, leading them down false paths and littering clues about the context of the crime and its implications on the life of the main character. He is not presented as a particularly monstrous or friendly man, but the audience is kept distanced from his intentions, which are slowly and skilfully revealed until the astonishing conclusion.
(Translated from French)