You can feel your heart sink right as it starts. The steel blinds slowly come down, the sound proof doors are opened, and dinner is prepared for two. Average looking Michael (Michael Fuith) opens up another door and simply says “come on” like your dad tells you to get out of bed.
You know what is happening, and the feeling is terrible at first. After a long moment of breath holding, a young boy emerges from the darkened room. The both of them sit down for dinner. The boy is not eating, but Michael is. If you aren’t already noticing the obvious, the scene looks like a father and son mourning the loss of someone.
The boy asks “can I watch telly tonight?”
Michael replies “Until 9:00”
That is the opening to Michael, a new movie directed by the casting director of Haneke’s The White Ribbon, Markus Schleinzer. This is his debut feature film, and to call it unsettling is an understatement. From what I just described to you, Michael may seem like an unbearable experience, but this is very watchable.
Michael has abducted this small boy (named Wolfgang, I believe, no more than 8 yrs) and keeps him isolated in a small room filled with toys, crayons, and a nice bed. When Michael goes out Wolfgang sits alone, slowly losing touch with whoever he was (or belonged to). In an early scene, Wolfgang plays with his hair, whispering something. Then he colors all day, hoping his letter and drawing will be mailed to his parents. Michael keeps all Wolfgang’s letters and drawings in a box, and cruelly tells the boy his parents no longer want him and he must do everything Michael says. Well, the words are cruel, but Michael Fuith’s delivery is so much more painful because you would believe him.
Michael is a good worker. He keeps to himself, does his job, and avoids socialization. It is clear he is not happy, and his driving motivation is to come home to the child. His feelings for the boy are perfectly summarized when Michael is about to molest, but Wolfgang whimpers. Michael asks what is wrong, and Wolfgang says he is sick. When Michael takes his temperature, he panics.
From there, Michael takes extra care of Wolfgang. Calling in sick and keeping Wolfgang warm, leaving his body alone and giving him medicine. Yet, Michael goes out into the woods and begins digging. Michael is prepared for the Wolfgang to die, and even if he lives he takes into consideration that he cannot keep Wolfgang forever.
When Wolfgang heals, the hole is not seen again, and the cycle continues. But Michael goes searching for another boy to abduct and take Wolfgang’s place. He even builds a bunk bed and tells Wolfgang he will soon have a friend.
At times Wolfgang is affectionate and depending of Michael, and Michael is to him. But we are soon reminded of how broken their whole relationship is when the pants come off every night.
Michael occasionally tries to cheer Wolfgang up, like throwing snowballs at him, taking him to the zoo, and teasing his strength when Wolfgang hits his legs in fury. I don’t want to say Michael tries to be fatherly to Wolfgang, that is hard to tell. When he is digging the hole, I could not tell if he was worried about losing the boy he molests or the boy he cares about. It may be both.
There are moments in this film that are perfect. Depressing yet fascinating. Like when Michael tries to tell a joke to Wolfgang to make what he does seem normal and funny. Wolfgang’s reply to this joke is simply shattering. Does Michael understand just how wrong this all is? Thats far beyond my comprehension. Moments like that in the film are overwhelming in despair. The scenes of suspense when Michael couldn’t be closer to getting caught are enough to make the floor below you shake.
Fuith’s performance is what makes the film. As the viewer, we are as isolated with Michael not so much as Wolfgang is, but Michael is with himself. Fuith is always what changes the mood, makes us calm or nervous, or even excited. Strong credit also goes to Schleinzer, who sets the mood excellently in the beginning and is unrelenting in the depiction. In an interview I believe was taken at Cannes last year (it was in competition), he said he picked Fuith for his looks, no offense intended. Fuith doesn’t look like a pedophile, but he has the facial expression of someone masking something. This is the role he was born to play.
You never doubt Schleinzer will make a misstep, but the film’s only visible flaw is when it does break away from Michael and Wolfgang towards the end. I felt the film was only about those two, and it was much more affecting that way. Still, Michael is an overall incredible movie. It is on Netflix Streaming at the moment if you wish to watch it.