It’s as if Schleinzer accidentally took out anything remotely interesting while he was avoiding any amount of sensationalism with the subject matter.
Markus Schleinzer deals with a topic that few others would touch with a ten foot pole in Michael, a film that’s caused a stir since its premiere at Cannes Film Festival last year. Using the same clinical style that’s found in films by Michael Haneke (Schleinzer was a casting director for several of his films, and the influence is seen in every frame here) Michael deals with the topic of pedophilia in a way that’s never really been seen on film before. That doesn’t necessarily mean that this certain portrayal is a good one though.
Michael opens with the title character (Michael Fuith) coming home from work at an insurance company. After making dinner, setting the table for two and putting down barricades on the windows he goes into his soundproof basement and opens a door locked heavily on the outside. The camera lingers on the door for as long as possible before we see a 10 year old boy (David Rauchenberger) emerge. They eat dinner, clean up and watch some TV before the boy goes back into the room. Later on Michael goes down into the basement and goes into the boy’s room. Before we can start thinking about why he went down there, the next shot of Michael washing his genitals in the sink, lets us know the answer. After that he goes to bed for yet another day of work.
That’s more or less of what the rest of Michael is made up of. The camera, usually locked down and showing off some impressively precise framing, remains as passive as possible while observing the day-to-day life of Michael and his young prisoner. There are several hints throughout the movie that the boy’s been locked downstairs for a long time (possibly years) which helps explain some of the more complicated aspects of their relationship. Early on during a scene where the two are visiting the zoo together the boy doesn’t do anything despite dozens of people around him who he could get help from.
When Michael works, it can be downright stomach-churning with the amount of tension it creates. One sequence at a race track where Michael hunts down a potential victim is one of the only highlights in the entire film. The problem is that, for the most part, Michael is nothing more than observations. The blunt approach to pedophilia could definitely be seen as shocking, but it covers up the fact that there is absolutely nothing interesting being explored. It’s as if Schleinzer accidentally took out anything remotely interesting while he was avoiding any amount of sensationalism with the subject matter. The result is something that’s surprisingly dull, and by the final act the only drive for staying until the end is to find out the fate of the young boy.
With Michael most of the content is left up to the imagination. Schleinzer knows that he doesn’t need to do much in terms of showing what’s on screen since, given the topic at hand, the audience will do most of the work. While it’s a tactic that definitely pays off when used properly, in this film it feels more like laziness. Once you get past the effective style, there isn’t much else to look at.