Saturday, October 22, 2011

Michael (Philadelphia Film Festival)

Both the champions and detractors have a point. Cannes competition entry "Michael" is by no means a perfect film, and director Markus Schleinzer may not have entirely dealt with some thorny morality problems. But at the same time, he aggressively evokes both space and sound to put you alongside the characters. He also decides not to show any of the explicit content, only leaving suggestions of what happened. By doing this for us, he prepares us for hints at even more upsetting possibilities.

The film centers on the pedophile titular character (Michael Fuith), who has imprisoned a (sadly nameless except in the credits) boy (David Rauchenberger) in his house behind retractable shutters, soundproofing, and barricaded doors. He feeds the kid and lets him watch television, but he also does unspeakable things to him. And he wretchedly stamps out the child's forms of escape (storing all the letters he's written to his parents in a hidden box).

Though one scene may have shown Michael having a cry, there's no indication of ethics for him. He apparently can go on with his life without moral reproach (which is emphasized via religion). So one has to wonder: what happened to him as a kid? What led to this despicable man? At the film's ending (sure to be extremely divisive), we see members of his family, but they seem completely oblivious to the horrific depths to which Michael has plunged.

Another query Schleinzer is raising is: how does the rest of the world view pedophiles? Obviously they're detested, but what about when people don't know who they're dealing with? Michael is an insurance person, and he talks on the phone a lot with many people. It reminded me of the Mr. Show sketch with the rapist who has to identify himself as one everywhere he goes. But this is the real world, and that doesn't happen.

Since Schleinzer tries to make the style as cut-and-dry as possible, the way he sequences the events is the channel through which we sense his judgment. The ending is probably most prominent in sensing what he's trying to say, as it's incongruous in a natural sequence. I would agree that the ending isn't handled in exactly the best way possible. A friend called it manipulative and that it is. But it also sheds some light on mothers and sons in general, as well as a terrifying semi-absolution. At 96 minutes, "Michael" is short and insubstantial. It definitely has its problems. But it does have some things to say, with impeccable craft to say them with, and it does a good job of taking apart every bit of Michael's life. B


Steph said...

This sounds like a movie I probably won't watch simply because of the disturbing subject matter. It seems to me if a film is going to tackle a topic like this, it has to be a truly exceptional movie. Based on your review, I think this probably isn't the case.

Just out of curiosity, do you think this would've been a stronger movie if you'd learned more about the perpetrator's back story, making it somewhat clear how he came to be what he is? Or do you think that would have reduced it to a pop psychology piece -- "abused kid grows up to be a monster?"

Nick Duval said...

That would have made it more ambitious, but it could have led to other pitfalls as well (as you said, "pop psychology"). I think its main strength is how you see very few bad things happen; it's mostly implied. The use of flashbacks may have killed that. But maybe not.

I appreciate this movie somewhat, but kinks definitely should have been ironed out.