Dir.: Markus Schleinzer | Austria 2011 | 96 min
As a casting agent, Markus Schleinzer has worked together with Austrian heavyweights such as Ulrich Seidl and Michael Haneke, and with them in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that Schleinzer's own debut feature is so penetrating and painful. The title character, Michael, is a grey and shy insurance agent, who has meticulously organised his life along neurotic routines. On the surface, Michael appears to be a lonely recluse, but we don't have to get far down into the foam-padded basement to discover his ugly secret. In his Austrian cellar, Michael is keeping a 10-year-old boy imprisoned, whom he assaults routinely. A topic of this caliber could easily get suffused with psychological excuses and over-the-top sentimentality, but Schleinzer, who clearly has benefitted from his association with Haneke, guides the film safely around the obvious clichés, and makes 'Michael' a provocative portrait of a monster with both a suit and privet hedges. The film limits itself to a period of five months and, during this time, the defences, which Michael has painstakingly built around himself and his crime, begin to disintegrate. What he has done, is not a secret, but will it be discovered? 'Michael' is borne by a chilling style and a meticulous, almost perpendicular framing, which mimics the controlled reality of the protagonist. Truly a shocking debut.