A portrait of a pedophile, rapist and kidnapper will make a lot of people angry, especially one which doesn’t paint the protagonist with broad brushtrokes of evil and malevolence. Markus Schleinzer’s Michael is this movie and it is destined to enrage as many as it fascinates with its mundane depiction of the day-to-day confinement of a ten year old boy in a suburban basement by a 35 year-old insurance executive.
As you can imagine from Michael Haneke’s casting director, Michael is devoid of sentimentality. Michael is not the name of the boy, but of the molestor and, as played with stony-faced quiet by Michael Fuith, he is not portrayed as a violent monster but as a loner who functions in society, celebrates when he is promoted at work and allows his helpless charge Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger) to emerge from his dungeon and even leave the house occasionally on excursions.
It is this nuanced picture of the pedophile that makes the film doubly disturbing. Michael behaves with trademark abuser signs. He thinks he is being kind to the boy, behaves as if they are lovers and gives him gifts. He is blind to the fact that the sexual abuse of the boy hurts him and even makes jokes as if the sex is mutually consenting.
Although its narrative turns are less than convincing - there are not one but two car accidents - the bravery of the film is to be admired. These people exist, they operate in society and live among us, yet they are so reviled that any discussion about them as human beings is bound to be controversial. Nicole Kassell tried it in The Woodsman and Todd Solondz in Happiness, but many refused to accept those films.
Response to Michael will be divided. I applaud its daring.
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