"“The film manages to remain affecting but without the need for sensationalism…”"

When going to see a film about the tribulations surrounding the life of a paedophile and the 10-year-old boy locked in his basement, you know exactly what you are getting yourself in for.

Michael is a captivating, disturbing and tense film, set over the course of five months in Austria. Michael (Michael Fuith), is a lonely, damaged thirty-something, who despite seeming ordinary to those around him – his work colleagues, neighbours and family, bears an unsettling and sadistic secret; keeping the innocent Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger) locked up in his basement.

The film is hard-hitting and doesn’t skirt around the disturbing reality of the situation, as Michael, on a number of occasions, rapes the innocent young victim.

Showing at the BFI London Film Festival, this is director Markus Schleinzer’s debut feature, and what a brave and bold piece of filmmaking it is. Usually taking on the role as a successful casting director, he certainly got his cast right on this one – as the lead Fuith is sensational in the role of Michael.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for an actor to try and get to grips with such a role, but Fuith is just magnificent. He manages to be sadistic and intimidating, yet at other points came across as troubled and sensitive. It really is a film that plays with your emotions and questions your conscience as at points it’s difficult to not feel empathetic towards Michael, despite absolutely detesting him. He is not a man proud of what he is doing.

The character is complex and fascinating, and much of the empathy is a result of his occasional concern for Wolfgang. Despite being a merciless criminal, he appears to have feelings for the young child, and attempts to look after him. He takes him to the petting zoo, lets him watch television and when Wolfgang hurts his foot, Michael takes great care in mending it better. Of course it doesn’t repent for Michael’s sins, but it gives the character depth as you start to realise this is not just an evil and mindless criminal, but a troubled and clearly mentally unstable individual.

And despite the deplorable themes throughout, the film manages to remain affecting but without the need for sensationalism. It doesn’t show in graphic detail any of the wrongdoings, but simply indicates what is going on, with the locking of the basement door a troubling and unsettling signifier to what is about to happen.

It strayed away from being too emotional also. There was no background information, we have no idea how Wolfgang came to be in Michael’s possession. We weren’t flashbacks of Wolfgang with his family, playing and being happy, to help maximise the emotional aspects to the film. Instead it was simply raw and gritty, leaving any sentiment behind. To further this, and to try and stay away from any emotional attachment – I can’t recall Wolfgang’s name being mentioned once over the course of the film, enhancing the fact that we know so little about him or his predicament.

However, despite the rawness to the production, dare I say it; the film was actually relatively funny in parts. There was a scene where Michael was struggling to stand up in the snow on a skiing trip, whilst another humorous scene where he sings (very out of tune) to Sunny by Boney M. The said song played out during the closing credits, making for an incredible array of conflicting senses – as the heartbreaking conclusion was soon counteracted by the optimistic, joyous pop song. 

It’s just a fantastic film, and an emotional ride from start to finish. Feeling a variety of different feelings and emotions, you feel mentally strained after this one - I certainly wouldn’t recommend booking a ticket to see a film straight after seeing this one, put it that way. I just hope that Rauchenberger (playing Wolfgang) doesn’t watch this film anytime soon. Or ever at all for that matter.