★★★★ / ★★★★
If you are to pick a person from a crowd, it is likely that Michael (Michael Fuith) will not be your first choice given his ordinary looks, taciturn personality, and a lack of willingness to attract attention. He lives his every day routine of waking up, driving to work, making phone calls, eating lunch, preferably without company, and coming home. But Michael is not quite so ordinary. In his basement, he keeps a ten-year-old boy, Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger), locked up for hours, sometimes days and weeks, whose sole purpose is to alleviate Michael’s sexual needs.
“Michael,” written and directed by Markus Schleinzer, is a very challenging film because of its content. Although it clearly is not made to be enjoyed, it can be admired because of the way the story is constructed in such a cold and calculating manner. Its power lies in observation without judgment. Like scientists, it is up to the viewers to perform the evaluation.
There are multiple extended sequences where not a word is uttered. By focusing on the sparse sounds and haunting images, it feels like we are right next to Michael as he goes through his boring routine and the sickness in his mind slowly begins to take hold of his actions. In other words, it is able to transport us into the world of a pedophile where we are almost complicit in his actions because even though we want to stop him, there is nothing we can do to prevent him from physically, psychologically, and emotionally abusing the child.
The camera is very patient in movement, creating a languid flow that, when disturbed, generates horror so potent, I found myself having to pause the movie and walk away for a couple of minutes. The writer-director makes the right decision in not showing us most of the images of abuse and violence. During such moments, the screen either fades to black or there is a literal wall between us and the man and his captive. As disturbing as it is, I couldn’t help but think about what is happening behind that wall. I suppose the material wants us to get angry and hope that Wolfgang will somehow find a way to escape on his own or with the help of a suspicious samaritan.
Michael is not showcased as a person deserving of our compassion. When the boy gets sick and has a high fever, Michael, like most adults, takes care of the boy by helping his temperature to go down. But we have to ask ourselves whether Michael does it out of kindness or maintenance. Personally, I think he does not want the boy to die because he will no longer have a plaything. Furthermore, we actually have a chance to watch him shop for little boys in a race track and see how difficult it is to kidnap a “willing” child. It is very uncomfortable and Schleinzer plays with our expectations as helpless observers as Michael plays and converses with various unwitting children as potential participants in his incurable disease.
“Michael” is riveting in its technical simplicity which complements the complex emotions we must to endure to get to the final key moment bathed in ambiguity and possibilities. While the picture is disturbing on many levels, it cannot be denied that it is brave.