Director: Markus Schleinzer
Starring: Michael Fuith, David Rauchenberger
Release Date: Out Now
Markus Schleinzer’s directorial debut is easily one of the most unsettling films made in recent memory. The film follows the life of the titular character, Michael, a man who works at an insurance company, seems to shun any real human interaction, and dislikes any attention being paid to him. Michael’s dark secret is that he has a young boy locked in his basement, whom he eats with, watches TV with, and routinely sexually abuses. Quite tellingly, Michael is an Austrian film, where there have been two high profile domestic imprisonment cases uncovered in recent years.
The young boy, Wolfgang, is left completely alone for the most part; he is seen writing to his parents at one point and giving the letter to Michael, telling us that the boy has been led to believe that he will eventually get to go home. Michael’s behaviour is erratic at best, and there are times where he seems to genuinely care for the boy. When he realises that Wolfgang is lonely, he tries to kidnap another child (which makes for a supremely disconcerting scene).
The film does not use much in the way of a soundtrack; instead, ambient noise is often used for effect. Every sound in the film is accentuated, one example of this being the noise of the generator in Michael’s basement; it is a continuous source of tension, adding to the endless discomfort felt when Michael and Wolfgang are in the same room. The lack of music denies the viewer an escapist element of fictive cinema; it forces you to engage with the plot and not be distracted by any backing score, in a manner similar to the work of Michael Haneke. The one exception to this is a scene where Michael is driving and singing along to Boney M.’s ‘Sunny’, an exceptionally odd shot that adds to the viewer’s perception of Michael as human, albeit immensely flawed.
This is an unusual film. It is quite hard to describe as enjoyable, but it is an exceptionally interesting and well-made piece of work. It delves into the psyche of paedophiles, exploring their humanity and the nature of their crimes. The lack of any real plot can be listed as praise or criticism – we don’t know how Wolfgang was kidnapped and we don’t know what happens to him after the film’s events – but the mild frustration that this causes allows the film a simplicity that enables it to focus on the interactions between two people in minute detail.
In a Nutshell: A deeply disturbing exploration into the relationship between a kidnapping paedophile and his victim. Probably not first date material.