There has been some controversy over Cinefamily’s showing this week of the film, “Michael.” Michael is the story of a pedophile. The film festival favorite has won numerous accolades and is reviewed as being a gripping character study that makes the unthinkable all too real. Here is Hadrian’s response to the criticism:
I got a letter the other day from a concerned, but loyal, patron who wanted to know why we would show MICHAEL–an Austrian art film about a pedophile who keeps a child in his basement–especially in light of horrific current events. Now, as a policy I don’t generally believe that a film’s portrayal of a subject matter is in any way an endorsement, and it’s certainly not with MICHAEL–a film that is as intelligent and tasteful as a film on this subject matter deserves to be. I’m happy to stick to my guns morally, but that’s not the point. I’m not showing Michael as some kind of stance. I’m showing it because it’s great. And it’s not the movie you think it is.
When I’ve spoken with people who haven’t seen it yet, it seems their impression is irrevocably colored by the disturbing subject matter. People either think it’s some kind of provocative, outré, boundary-pushing, “can you handle it”? movie along the lines of ANTI-CHRIST or even HAPPINESS, or just a weird Euro-bummer we’re showing because of its taboo focus. But no. We’re showing MICHAEL because it’s the most assured film debut of the year, and a flat out piece of pure cinema. And without a champion it’s gonna quietly slip into the good night.
Markus Schleinzer is a skilled pupil from the school of Michael Haneke (he’s been Haneke’s casting director for years), and he seems fascinated with this unsettling subject for reasons far more interesting than just pure sensationalism–and this might have confounded some reviewers as to why he made it (why even make a movie about a pedophile, if not to shock?). But I think it’s the incredibly private universe, the secretive world of his subject who does not share his life with anyone, that is inherently interesting to this skilled technician of film form. The challenge is to pull us into this world, hypnotically hooking us into the minutiae, and emotional nuances, with a minimum of dialogue.
Like Haneke, Schleinzer has a precise sense of sequence construction–each shot reveals just enough information to activate the viewer’s mind, raise a question, leave a clue, or finalize the mosaic of information that’s been slowly building. The sense of timing is impeccable and haunting, the offscreen space alive with reality, and he knows how to cut away at just the right moment to pop your synapses and take your breath away.
MICHAEL is one of those movies by a filmmaker who is keenly aware of what the audience is thinking at all times, and knows how to steer the ship. I can’t give it away, but there are sources of suspense in this movie so clever and surprising that my inner screenwriter construction nerd wanted to stand up and cheer. And it’s never cheap. It’s never, like his mentor Haneke’s films can sometimes be, punishing. While the subject matter is horrifying, Schleinzer doesn’t force you to watch anything you don’t want to see.
We are proud to be showing and supporting movies like BULLHEAD (the Belgian nominee for Best Foreign Film) or MARGARET (with its cover story in the LA Weekly), but I know our reasons for showing these great films are more self-explanatory. Here’s a a kind of a rule of thumb: the more mysterious the reasons why we’re showing a movie, the more likely it’s because we just really love it. Some films have no obvious commercial appeal, no special guests, no social buzz. Some films are Austrian art films about pedophiles who keep children in their basement–not exactly box office gold, at least where I come from. These are the films we’re showing for just one reason. We want you to see it.