18 August 2012

Film: Michael (2011)

Thoughts: Michael was a... difficult watch. Not because the film was terrible, in fact, far from it. It is elegantly constructed, remarkably well acted, has great sound design and is shot by a master. No, the film is difficult because of the terrifying, horrible subject matter. But what is even more frightening is that after 93 minutes, you realize you have slowly fallen in with the film's hypnotic rhythm.

Michael covers around 5 months in the life of a... let's not bury the facts here, a paedophile named Michael, and Wolfgang, his 10 year old male captive. It's all about control: Michael cooks for his ward, cleans up after him, cuts his hair, takes him on day trips, and rapes him whenever he likes. It is a horrifying situation, made even more disturbing with how matter-of-fact it is all presented. The film moves at a rhythm that can be only described as life-like. As the minutes pass, we see morning, day, night, morning, day, night, work, sleep, eat, morning, day, night. Michael keeps Wolfgang locked in a room in his basement, completely self-functional with running water, toiletries, food, light, and heat. But again, Michael can contain each area- even the lighting is set to a schedule dictated by the controller.

As the film progresses, the information is parcelled out in the doses that come naturally. Nothing is served on a platter. We see how much, or how little the two communicate, we see the kind of "relationship" that has formed between the two. A passing comment reveals insight into just how long the child has been captive for, when on Christmas day Michael says "Why don't you go and get the decorations for once?". We see his worklife, and we see his strange swings in mood and perception- we never truly get to see inside Michael's head. The man is an evil, monstrous enigma. The same could be said for Wolfgang, but being a ten year old, his emotions and thoughts tend to present themselves more outwardly.

We see how Michael reacts to encroaching outside influences, and how he maintains his own tenuous anger. There are shots of him sobbing on the couch after receiving a Christmas card from his captive that he didn't particularly like, and of him constantly checking the paths outside his home for would-be discoverers of his dark secret. We see how he reacts to female affection, and his absurd impulses of playtime with Wolfgang, like running into his room and pelting him with snowballs while laughing maniacally, then locking the door and bolting. We also see one very disturbing scene that I won't spoil here, but really would have required odd courage from both actors, young and old. A twisted fuck is Michael.

The film follows this hypnotic rhythm dictated by director Markus Schleinzer, whom I believe was Director of Photography on most of Michael Haneke's films. It's quite easy to fall in step with the monotony of the everyday, and its, dare I say, fascinating to watch this whole awful thing unfold. This is a world we choose to ignore in light of easier events in our lives. Thousands of kids are kidnapped, we just turn a blind eye. This film does not seek to inform, preach, condemn, justify or sensationalize. It is a quiet tale of one fucked up individual, ruining an innocent live. And the ending, ambiguity can easily be defined by it. I'm still not sure if I consider it a good ending, but with the technical and acting excellence on display, it is hard not to assume that the director knew exactly what he was doing.

Like Requiem For A Dream, this is a film that I would be loathe to revisit, and yet, like Requiem For A Dream, I can only wonder if the strength of the talent might just draw me back in at a later date, not unlike Aronofsky's masterpiece. All I can say is... God, I don't know what to say. I don't even know what score to give. I am stumped.


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