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March 23, 2023

TIFF 2012: Michael or on the prosaism of the evil

An industrious man, the ideal candidate for a brilliant professional career. Tidy and clean, he always does the washing up and carefully sweeps the floors after a meal. Calm and shy, he inspires confidence and sympathy even to strangers. He is almost paternal when he relates to children and conformist in enjoying, just like everybody else, a nice ski break, the Christmas tree atmosphere or even a one-night stand. A corny man. Not very different to Eichmann, the office worker leading a plain life portrayed by Hannah Arendt. Michael, the lead character of the Markus Schleinzer film with the same name, is an unsuspected paedophile. A respectable young man, a bit lonely, but polite to the others. A man who, in the intimacy of his bachelor home, keeps his little prison with his little prisoner. A prey that, in spite of otherwise quite humane conditions, he slowly destroys each day. His violence is subtle, interwoven by a perverse emotional manipulation through lies. An abuser who tames his little victim, carefully preparing him for the perverse ritual. He cares after his victim, he makes him presents, offers him trips, even a surrogate education, making the nightmare seemingly combine all the ingredients of normality. Apart from the stricter theme of child abuse, the film depicts the abuser in every man: the solicitude that hides the control, the lie that acquires loyalty, emotional cannibalism. And the prosaism becomes the perfect alibi for a double life, one that is concealed in a dark corner of human soul. But what’s the profile of a child abuser? This is a question Schleinzer’s movie only answers by suggestions. Frustrations going back in time, a shy person who has always had to live with the complex of inadequacy and failure (the ski day scene); a certain compulsion, proving badly managed longings (the St. Nicholas boots put next to the entrance door on the second Eastern Day); an almost demonstrative taste for revenge, meant to erase a humble condition (the small party thrown to celebrate the work promotion or the seduction of the pub keeper); the predilection for conformism which predisposes him to hypocrisy, hence isolation. A heavy family past is not excluded, as his sister is the only mediator of the exchange of Christmas gifts in a neutral and crowed public context. Beyond all this, his liking for freely disposing of a ‘partner’ willing to submissively play along with him in his affective game. One enjoying what he enjoys and willing to promptly answer his effusion, like in a snowball fight. But has child abuse also ‘cultural’ roots? The film only suggests, without insisting on it: the horror-porn combination (which actually is not missing at TIFF) that can be found in an erotic thriller Michael loves so much that he is tempted by a ridiculous mimetic response. The iconic scene of the funeral sermon, the quintessence of a society that lives in a phantasmatic way, where everybody ignores each other beyond formal relations, also hints at a Christianity emptied of its original message. In an emotionally frozen world, abuse replaces love. Michael is not a tormented character, he has no regrets (he cheerfully hums a hit while driving and tries to lure a new victim), the only thing he fears is being exposed or his victim escaping. Nothing drives him to a reaction of conscience. Whose fault is that?

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