Fantastic Fest 2011 Movie Review: Model Shock Muffled In MICHAEL

April saw pedophile “romance” MICHAEL at Fantastic Fest. Read on for her thoughts!

It’s a tired festival tale that oftentimes two great films share the same time slot and Fantastic Fest 2011’s opening contenders gave us an eye spasm with a rough (entirely first world) decision to make: do we set the tone for the day with a throwback to action packed Hong Kong comedy with Let the Bullets Fly, or bait fate with a German, barefaced, five-month glimpse into the life of a lubberly pedophile and the child he keeps prisoner in a soundproof cellar? The deal breaker this time around was twofold. Not only was it hilariously tagged in the guide as a “Romance,” but New Zealand artist Mike Sheils’ brand-new content icon for Markus Schleinzer’s directorial debut, Michael, (below) induced my favored brand of uncomfortable laughter. And thus it became a morbid curiosity itch I had to scratch.
One might read the synopsis and think they have a clue what’s in store. We’ve seen similar controversial sexual obsessions fleshed out in films like Lolita, Happiness or ample viewings of MSNBC’s Sex Bunker. I know I said ample, but to be fair they played the shit out of that special. The interesting news is that Michael is quite an inversion of those stories. And the negative image result surprises with its nonjudgmental approach, void of the many scuzzy components we didn’t really need to know.

The devil’s in the unexceptional details here and that’s what makes it all the more nightmarish (or tedious depending on your mood).  At a controlled, modest pace we follow Michael, a drab Austrian insurance salesman and his child prisoner, Wolfgang, through their day-to-day no faster than the speed at which they’re living it.

Truly bleak pins and needles moments take their shape through cold lenses when the camera time and again locks tightly on something as commonplace as the two side by side washing dishes. Silhouetted here, a simple comparison of their stature can usher continuous waves of discomfort.

Markus Schleinzer served as casting director for White Ribbon (along with many other Haneke films) and his expertise coaching children in that particular selection is reflected in David Rachenberger’s impressively unguarded performance as young Wolfgang. On the other hand, an uncanny resemblance to Tony Hale’s “Buster” Bluth from Arrested Development can take a bit away from the Fuith’s portrayal of the nominal character. However, if he happened to utter a line similar to “Hey, brother!” the dark humor peppered throughout would have buffered an otherwise out of place laugh.

Admittedly, I’d put up defenses in case it took the whole route of chastising the audience for anticipating something, anything more revealing. And what sits well with me even a couple days later is that it wasn’t on his agenda. Michael provokes a conversation worth having and loosens the lid on a few cans of worms. In this case, they’re of the parasitic, decomposing and corrupting variety.