Cornerhouse LiveWire Young Film Critic James Martin reviews Michael
Whilst Australia is doing its hardest to shed its ‘happy-go-lucky’ image with the releases of titles such as: Sleeping Beauty, Animal Kingdom and Snowtown, it seems that silently in the corner, Austria has been producing its own dark little gems and Michael is no exception. Child abuse isn’t often tread territory in cinema and it is obvious why but Markus Schleinzer’s debut (more often than not) treads gently over such controversial territory.
The film follows Michael, a run of the mill insurance agent. However, this seems to be just a cover up for his dark secret: he’s got a young boy locked in his basement. As the film unfolds we watch both the abuser and abusee’s lives unfold for better and for worse.
One would expect a film like Michael to be heavily biased to the side of the victim, showing off how malicious Michael actually is; alas, you’d be mistaken. Schleinzer has opted for quite a neutral view of Michael: you see him at his most humane (singing along to 1980s pop songs in his car, trying to impress peers at parties) and at his most inhumane (more than one explicit implication of sexual abuse of a child) so it’s hard to either pity Michael, or detest him. Which ends up being the fuel to one of the most uncomfortable viewings this side of Kill List.
The spark to set off the fuel however is Schleinzer’s use of extremely long, mundane mid shots. Sometimes you’re sat watching Michael, or Wolfgang (his victim) do the most ritualistic of things and suddenly you feel like you understand them as complex individuals. Your views on Michael tessellate eccentrically and these long shots force you to watch the film, you can’t seem to peel your eyes form the screen no matter how horrible it gets.
However, as carefully as Schleinzer treads there are moments that just go too far. One of the most obvious is a scene towards the end of the film involving cutlery and a cheesy line Michael has picked up from a horror film. It’s so explicit and down right nasty that you watch it thinking: ‘Is he even allowed to do this?!’. Some moments force you to revel in Wolfgang’s misery a little too much for the average human to endure and it goes beyond being uncomfortable.
For the most part Schleinzer has created a gripping and memorable debut. It’s certainly not going to attract the mainstream media’s attention but as a piece of cinema it’s restrained for all the right reasons. Arguably, you won’t remember Schleinzer’s debut itself, but for how it treats such a controversial subject.