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Michael – BFI London Film Festival 2011 Day Six

  Thursday 20th October 2011

SUN 23RD OCTOBER – 4.15 PM CURZON MAYFAIR

Tough dramas or features that present harrowing and distressing subject matters are a frequent cog in the film festival cycle, maliciously turning and diverting press and industry in their droves. Amongst these ‘types’ of film at this year’s festival is Michael, and the division of audience opinion was certainly apparent in the press screening this afternoon (Wednesday 19th). After great success at Cannes, director and writer Markus Schleinzer brings his taboo picture to the capital and potential audiences need to be prepared.

A chilling depiction of a paedophile

A chilling depiction of a paedophile. Photo: Artificial Eye

Showcasing their last five months ‘together’, Schleinzer’s work follows the story of Michael (Michael Fruith); a 35-year-old man living a seemingly normal life. Apart from working and the occasional meet with his sister, Michael lives almost a solitary existence. However his normality ends once he returns home – inside his cellar lives Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger), a 10-year-old schoolboy who he has abducted for sexual pleasures.

Despite its rather grim nature, for the most part Michael is a rather underwhelming affair – not essentially because the film is bad per se; on the contrary, but a large portion of its 96-minute duration is following Michael through the mundane and ordinary. Scenes of him washing, making drinks and sitting around consume the running time, making the actual experience seem all the more real. When an upsetting scene appears, it feels unexpected and all the more striking. It’s clear to see the influences of the great Michael Haneke throughout (who Schleinzer worked alongside as a casting director) – the use of sparse, empty environments creates an opposite effect making the film seem claustrophobic and nauseous.

It’s fair to assume Schleinzer’s story has its roots in the Josef Fritzl saga which gripped the nation a few years ago but unlike the calculated monster Fritzl was shown to be, Michael is often seen as sympathetic, and although this makes his actions all the more chilling, it also makes the film seem slightly off-balance. This is a story about a paedophile and his relationship with a minor, a minor that he has taken and locked away, so at no point should viewers feel empathy or emotion towards the culprit – this intentional emotion sadly did not sit very well with me and tainted my overall experience.

 There is no denying that Michael is a strong picture: its performances are honest and thought-provoking, especially Rauchenberger who is quite frankly exceptional, its taut and brooding atmosphere is draining and its dramatically slow pacing really enforces tension and suspense; but Michael as a character feels too emotionally developed and it times it seems as if he is portrayed as a fairly mute and absent protagonist.

This is without doubt a festival film; its life lies here and one would be surprised if it is picked for UK distribution, but if it is or if you are at this year’s festival, I do recommend you experience it, even if I was mildly disappointed.

You certainly will not enjoy Michael but you might be glad you gave it a try.

Verdict: •••

Chris Haydon

Read more reviews from the 55th London Film Festival here

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