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Released 2 March 2012
Director Markus Schleinzer

Michael Fuith, Christine Kain, Ursula Strauss, Victor Tremmel, Gisela Salcher, Simon Jaritz, Florian Eisner, Margot Vuga, David Rauchenberger
Writer(s) Markus Schleinzer

Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Markus Glaser, Michael Kitzberger, Wolfgang Widerhof
Origin Austria
Running Time 96 Minutes
Genre Drama
Rating TBC

An uneasy triumph.

It takes a certain type of director to broach as taboo a subject matter as paedophilia. Given that Markus Schleinzer hails from Austria however, where cases such as that of Natascha Kampusch and Josef Fritzl have highlighted the prevalence of such evil in society, it may not have seemed too unnerving a subject matter to undertake.

Nominated for the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival Michael follows the life of a perfectly unremarkable office worker who spends his days dealing in insurance and his evenings abusing the ten-year-old boy who he keeps locked in the basement of his suburban house. If the explanation of the premise seems a touch trite then that is because Schleinzer's whole way of dealing with such an unsavoury issue is strikingly low-key, bordering on the mundane. The title character's blank stare as he makes copies at the office photocopying machine; as he tops up his colleagues champagne flutes at an office do to celebrate his promotion; is entirely in keeping with the perfunctory way he unbolts his soundproofed cellar door at night and abuses his young captive.

Given the nature of its subject matter Michael is never going to be a film that people will love. It is however an excellent observational thriller which makes for some very uncomfortable and uneasy viewing. The two main actors play their parts exceedingly well. Michael Fuith as Michael is adept at switching from the socially awkward loner by day to the debased tormentor by night while David Rauchenberger as the young Wolfgang is eerily faultless as the cellar prisoner, trapped in the strip-lit room drawing picture after picture which he addresses in vain to his parents. Schleinzer is very careful not to sway too far into the emotions of what is a highly-charged issue. His deft visual control sees each scene laid out in all its appalling glory, without embellishment or excitement. The very ordinariness of Michael is what is sensational about this film. The unnerving idea that this man could be anyone. His motives are never hinted at, nor is the backstory of how he abducted Wolfgang explained. Schleinzer is keen to focus on the here and now, the realities of the situation and the day-by-day existence of captor and captive. Michael is not a sympathetic character despite his being the main focus of the film. He is an ordinary monster.

- Louisa McElwee