Director: Markus Schleinzer
Cast: Michael Fuith, David Rauchenberger, Christine Kain, Ursula Strauss, Victor Tremmel, Xaver Winkler, Thomas Pfalzmann, Gisella Salcher, Isolde Wagner, Markus Hochholdinger
Drama – German
Cert (UK) 18
Actor and director Eoin Macken reviews undisputably one of the most harrowing examples of art house cinema to be released this year
This film, the debut from casting director Markus Schleinzer, is both simultaneously a riveting and a violating piece of work, and deserves as much vocal praise as it does silent consideration.
Terence Malik wrote in his screenplay of The Thin Red Line, “This great evil. Where does it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from?”. If the goal of a great film, or of great cinema, is to make you think or provoke you into debate, then Michael succeeds admirably. If it is to entertain and act as a conduit for escapism, then it fails abjectly.
Michael is a film about a middle-aged, middle class, middle of the road insurance salesman… who has an abducted ten year old boy trapped in his basement, where he treats him simultaneously like his sexual pet and surrogate son.
If anything this film is so horrifically powerful because of the clear possibility of something like it happening, just look up the statistics on missing children. One of the most disturbingly shocking scenes occurs when the protagonist of the title takes the young boy for a walk in the forest, and treats him to all outwardly extents like his own rigidly disciplined son. The mirage is so strong that a passing mother, upon seeing the boy vomiting, offers her help, is rebuffed, and then calmly carries on oblivious to the transgression taking place before her eyes.
To handle subject matter of such gravitas, a deft hand is required. Schleinzer, like his contemporary Hanneke, succeeds in subjugating the viewer to his intense world of gross violation without ever explicitly showing the actual events themselves. It all occurs behind closed doors, as it were. Powerfully, the viewer is then forced to create the events in their own mind, all the more explicit in the imagination; and makes one an accomplice to the horror.
This brings me to the acting, which is frighteningly real. It’s so honest in its expression that you feel like it could be a documentary – if the perfectly locked off frames weren’t so elegantly composed so as to keep you aware that you are still in fact watching a film. The dialogue, and what little action occurs, literally jumps off the screen with such force that at the marvelously gut wrenching denouement my heart was in my mouth and the mundanely horrific absurdity of the situation seemed so very real.
Whatever you may feel about the topic of this film, its nature, its relevance to your life, the necessity to make such a work; there can be no substance to the argument that it will not stay with you – and this is an achievement in itself.