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Portraying the unspeakable

OUT NOW! MICHAEL is the highly disturbing portrait of a pedophile and his 10-year-old captive.

Depicting paedophilia in any medium can (and so often does) go all kinds of wrong, especially when referencing a well-known incident of particular monstrosity such as the Natascha Kampusch case. Michael, though fictional, depicts a nigh identical scenario, with the titular Michael keeping 10-year-old Wolfgang hostage in the basement of his suburban home and leading a secret, profoundly perverted domesticity with him.

The film exercises the most sober and restrained approach to such inhumanity, and in that regard it’s a laudable if traumatising achievement. The focus is on the banal: the everyday activities of the painfully unremarkable Michael, his and Wolfgang’s dinners together, their evenings watching television.

While we’re all too aware of what happens after bedtime, we’re not shown it, a static shot of the closed basement door having a far deeper impact than any lurid detail would.

Michael wisely eschews all sensationalism, and even when Michael gets his eventual comeuppance, the scene is carefully shot so as to disallow viewers any cheap catharsis.

First-time writer/director Schleinzer’s experience as casting director for several of Michael Haneke’s films has clearly paid off, the aesthetic as well as the approach to the subject matter closely resembling that of his compatriot’s early work, particularly The Seventh Continent. Both films treat unexplainable acts of human barbarity clinically, rejecting any attempt at a psychological dimension and choosing simply to observe, coercing the viewer into a mode of spectatorship deeply unsettling in its objectivity.

Michael | Directed by Markus Schleinzer (Austria 2011) with Michael Fuith, David Rauchenberger. Starts January 26