Directed by Markus Schleinzer
For his debut feature, Michael, Haneke casting director Markus Schleinzer drains a Dungeon Dad–esque scenario of any and all sensationalism, and so extends his collaborator/compatriot’s view of medieval (or worse) behavior inherent in the modern day. Here, as well, the equation is numbingly simple—inner rottenness increases in direct proportion to outward respectability—though Schleinzer’s protagonist is a good deal more pasty-faced than the typical Haneke world-beater.
Michael’s title molester (Michael Fuith) is a clean-freak insurance agent with a 10-year-old named Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger) locked in his basement, where the overhead lights buzz cruelly. The man systematically rapes the boy—we see the former rinsing himself in the bathroom sink after one early descent into the cellar—but Schleinzer also forces us to consider the child’s dependence on his captor for survival. On a trip to the pharmacy to buy flu medicine for Wolfgang, Michael is hit by a car and detained in the hospital with a concussion. As the camera tracks Michael’s recovery, we are left to fret about the boy’s condition.
For his part, Wolfgang occasionally manages to fight back: Over dinner, he tells Michael he’ll be fired, repeating an economic-crisis statistic he heard on the radio; Michael, enraged by the suggestion that his teutonic drone work is redundant, shows the boy that the letters he thinks he’s sending to his parents have actually not left the house. Schleinzer reverts to low-grade Dwight Schrute grotesque again as Michael belts out a disco anthem in the car after getting promoted.
In addition to making this correlation between public ambition and private depravity, the writer-director even less convincingly examines Michael’s maladjustment as it manifests itself in “normal” human intercourse. Who would have thought that the most revolting sexual encounter depicted on-screen here would be between Michael and a woman his own age, the humiliating low point of a ski trip he takes with two ostensible buddies, who take him down a black diamond to disastrous results.
Perhaps you will see in this nauseating predator study something more profound than a low-pulse exercise in your-friends-and-neighbors scaremongering. Most likely not.
Opens February 15 at Film Forum