Many a murmuring has been made that Austrian director Markus Schleinzer's debut feature length film is comparable to acclaimed countryman Michael Haneke's work. A premature and overly favourable comparison, although I must concede that Schleinzer's film shares something of the provocative and evocative nature of Haneke. Perhaps expectedly as the lead character is a paedophile. Unfortunately, 'Michael' also rather meanders, with an almost oppressive banality.
We find the middle aged singleton Michael (played with impressive poise by Michael Fuith) maintaining an outwardly normal life - performing well in his office job and maintaining a pleasant relationship with his family. Yet he has a dark secret, one foreshadowed by the shutters on his house and the sound-proofed door leading to his basement. Here lies Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger), a young child kidnapped by Michael and made to live in this basement prison.
There is a banality to their relationship, which we gather has developed over the last several months, as Wolfgang watches television and eats dinner with his captor, and is even taken to the zoo. Some of the Schleinzer's success in 'Michael' however is in demonstrating the systemic abuse which Wolfgang suffers, without having to resort to anything particularly graphic.
The film never seeks to pass judgement on Michael's behaviour but with everything downplayed from the outset, there are few moments that truly arrest the viewer while watching 'Michael'. Indeed, the film's most shocking scene comes out of nowhere and is never surpassed. Except perhaps by the thought-provoking ending, which opens more doors than it closes. In more than one sense.
Schleinzer's previous credits include casting director for Haneke's Oscar nominated 'The White Ribbon' and undoubtedly, he has played a large role in the tremendous casting of 'Michael' - a film essentially carried by the perverse relationship of its two lead characters. Both Fuith and Rauchenberger are superb with what they do but in trying to avoid sensationalism, Schleinzer's overly distant approach ultimately detracts from their work.
'Michael' was released on Friday 2nd March and is in UK cinemas now.