Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Philadelphia Film Festival #7: Michael

In the theater at the Ritz East there was no effort made by anyone to tip-toe around the fact that everyone filling a seat was there to see the pedophile movie. It was nearly impossible for anyone to sit there completely unaware of the content of the film. Everyone there had made the choice, for some reason or another, to watch a film about a pedophile locking a young boy in his basement. It's safe to say that everyone there had some sort of expectations for the film. I went in expecting to be made uncomfortable-- but the downfall of Michael is in the build-up. The eponymous Michael is no Humbert Humbert, and any discomfort brought about by the film is due to the sterile stereotyping and not to any Lolita-esque relatability. The film has a few notably poignant scenes-- but ultimately it is neither shocking nor endearing, and falls short of the build-up that it is both.

-Jill Hackney

MICHAEL is another film in the Dogtooth style that utilizes sparse dialogue and steril shots with a dry, mostly neutral palette.  It seems to be trying to give you the impression that it is an objective view of this everyday pedophile and, in a way, it does.  There's practically no music and little tension, so it's not like watching Law & Order in which the suspect is either handsome and glib or dweeby and creepy but still menacing.  In Michael, the film still portrays the title character as dweeby but he's also practically innocuous.  He's literally impotent at times.   At one point Michael is watching a slasher film and when the the killer puts forth the dreadful proposition to his victim, "This is my cock and this is my knife, which do you want in you?", Michael giggles.  In the next scene while seated at the dinner table with the boy he's keeping hostage, Michael stands up and pulls out his small, unerect penis and then picks up a butter knife and repeats the line back to the boy.  Thus is Michael's life.
The film is mostly enjoyable although a bit dry.  There are a few moments of tension, mainly at the end following a twist I won't ruin but if you look hard enough you can see it coming from the beginning.  Michael does not empathize with others and does not understand anyone around him.  During the aforementioned dinner scene, he does not seem to realize that his position with the child is exactly the same as that of the killer in the film.  When he gets a promotion he throws a party at the office, but he spends the entirety of it serving people drinks and food and then awkwardly backing away without further comment.  In conversations with other people he gets up and leaves, or the scene simply ends when someone begins talking about their own life.  The film wants to engage you on some level, but it mostly wants you to spend the majority of the time thinking about what is going on in Michael's head and it's trying to explicitly tell you with every cut, every odd action of his, and every word he actually chooses to say.  He has almost complete control over the kid, and he does over you until near the end of the film when he loses it and we finally see outside of him.

I do believe that this film can be relatable if you put yourself in the right frame of mind.  Jill told me that before I came in that the person introducing said that the film is extremely uncomfortable to watch.  The only reason I can find for that is that you may find yourself in similar situations with parents, at work, and in other social situations.  And the way he hides this boy in a locked up room in the basement and how mechanical the routine for sex with him is, it almost seems like masturbation.  I suppose that is one way the film's technique could be seen as objective.  It does not make the pedophile a monster, just an awkward pervert like the rest of us.

-Rob Mugge

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