Directed by Markus Schleinzer
Cornerhouse, 4 March 2012
Although Markus Schleinzer has worked alongside his fellow Austrian Michael Haneke in the past, it would be a mistake to view this debut as pushing forward Haneke’s ‘film as terrorism’ agenda.
True, there are certain unsettling moments. One makes it clear that Michael’s interest in the boy he keeps captive is sexual, another shows Michael attempting to groom and pick up another boy at a go-kart track. There are a few others also, which I’ll desist from mentioning.
What Schleinzer does attempt to do, in my view, is to draw a parallel (and blur the line) between the abuser and the abused. In the process, he messes with your empathy big-time.
Like the boy (unnamed in the film), Michael too is missing from his family; and he invents a girlfriend in Germany to avoid visiting them for Christmas. He is isolated at work and, when an opening comes up, he can only wait to see if he’s got the promotion. The engine of his life is compliance towards others and a kind of learned helplessness. That’s outside his home, within it he is fiercely territorial – captive, you could say – as a work colleague soon learns. His only genuine emotion seems to be rage, sparked by his own helplessness (when floundering on a ski slope, for example); and it is the boy’s rage that is his downfall, of course.
Yes, Michael is a monster, but you do wonder afterwards about the experiences that made him so – and about what will ultimately become of the boy. Will the cycle of abuse continue?
Michael is a very fine first film, one which does much more than simply say ‘Boo!’