There was no film more controversial at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival than Markus Schleinzer’s feature film debut, “Michael.” The gripping tale of five months in the life of a pedophile (Michael Fuith) and the young child he keeps in his basement, “Michael” took Cannes audiences by surprise with its provocative story, which the festival did not reveal in advance. While critics were mixed, there’s no doubt that Schleinzer has established himself.
Schleinzer launched his career in the film industry 17 years ago, when he took a part-time job working for then-casting director Daniela Stibitz. He’s since worked with some of Austria’s biggest names, including Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl.
In this First Person piece Schleinzer penned for Indiewire, he opens up about his reasons for making this film and the inevitable comparisons to Haneke. [Go here to see our interview with Schleinzer out of Cannes.]
“Michael” opens today, February 15, at New York’s Film Forum.
Why I Made “Michael”
In late 2008, when I started to write the script, the issue of child abuse was a world-wide phenomenon that dominated the media. You couldn’t read a newspaper or watch television without hearing about some horrifying crime committed against children. To me it seemed that child abuse, like violence decades ago, had become sensationalized to the point of becoming entertainment. You could see how the way TV reportage was presented for effect and newspapers, with their catchy headlines, began to use the topic to create a sensation or a scandal for the sake of entertainment. I wanted to take the issue back to a more serious place.
The Haneke Connection
I was working with a lot of interesting filmmakers. Haneke may just be the most famous one. But there were also long collaborations with Ulrich Seidl, Benjamin Heisenberg or Jessica Hausner.
These are all very different artists whose works are highly individual. What connects them is their absolute dedication to their work. That means never making compromises. All have a very clear vision of what their films are going to be and they are able to articulate this to other team members effectively.
So the main influence on me was not one particular film. It was this way of filmmaking itself.
And again, being a casting director was a wonderful school because I was constantly working with people in front of the camera and could thus try things out while learning.
I was working with Haneke for about 12 years. Endurance, addiction, handicraft, that you have to be the person who loves your movie most, etc. — there has been a lot to learn from him. The comparsion with him is charming, but shortsighted. For “Michael” I choose a way of story telling that is often used by Haneke as well, but he hasn´t invented it. You can find it as well with Chantal Ackermann, Robert Bresson, etc. It is a language. It is a filmmaker language.
Maybe my next film will look completely different. I just found it logical to use this particular film language for this particular movie.
I achieved more than I dared to dream of. I planned a small Austrian movie being shown to a national audience. Now the movie has traveled the world, has been invited to I don´t know how many festivals and will be released in numerous countries.
It was never the idea to produce a box-office hit – I would have chosen a different subject – this movie is an offer for discussion. And this offer was and is used very well. And like in every other discussion, I can only be one part of it.
And yes, this is also the moment to say thank you to all the idelaistic people working in the industry for supporting “Michael.”