In his film debut entitled "Michael," Austrian filmmaker Markus
Schleinzer tells the tale of the abduction of a child from the
perspective of the pedophile perpetrator.
aims to break the silence
They were media events par excellence, which thousands of journalists
from around the world tried to convey: Natascha Kampusch's abduction and
the incest story involving Josef Fritzl, both in Austria. But
journalists couldn't really explain the inconceivable stories, in which
basement rooms were used to imprison and rape young girls and children
for years, without neighbors, authorities or acquaintances even
Austrian Markus Schleinzer, a long-time casting director, chose
characters for Oscar-winning films such as "The Counterfeiters" and "The
White Ribbon." But the cases involving Kampusch, who was kidnapped at
the age of 10 and held captive for over eight years before escaping in
2006, and Fritzl, who held his daughter prisoner for 24 years until
2008, raping her and conceiving seven children with her, preoccupied
Schleinzer so much that he decided to make a film on the topic.
"Michael," the name of the movie, was nominated last year for the
European Film Award and just won the Max Ophüls Award at the Saarbrücken
Film Festival, where Michael Fuith - who plays the leading role - also
received the Best Actor award. "Michael" opens in German theaters on
January 26. Deutsche Welle spoke with director Markus Schleinzer and
actor Michael Fuith
Deutsche Welle: You
have been casting director for some 60 different films. That you were
interested in making your own movie is understandable. But why did you
choose such a tough topic for your debut film?
Markus Schleinzer: At the end of 2008, I was seriously considering
making my first movie and I asked myself: What are the topics you're
really interested in? What's happening right now? Then I worked out
three different story ideas and presented them to a few friends. The story that caused the most
intense debates was "Michael." After that, there was no doubt about it
for me, especially because the topic is so omnipresent.
2008 was the year of Madeleine McCann, the little girl who disappeared
in Portugal. By then, in Austria, the public has distanced itself from
Natascha Kampusch because she wasn't willing to depict her kidnapper as
a monster in the way the media had.
I was surprised that so-called "high culture" wasn't willing to take a
different approach from the tabloids, which are not interested in
content but in selling more papers. But I also have to admit that I was
also part of this voyeuristic society, and followed all this horrible
news. So I thought, how could one report on this topic differently?
How did producers and film sponsors respond to your movie idea?
Austria does not spend a lot of money on filmmaking. Many filmmakers
have to vie for a share of the pie. And people always want to make sure
they are on the safe side. The question that people always asked was,
okay, but are we really allowed to do that? But that wasn't a question
for me. For me, the question was, should one do it? And there was a
clear answer to that. So, we got the money right off the bat, hands
down. It amazed me how easy it was to get funding for this film.
You say that Natascha Kampusch was one of many missing children. In
Germany, some 1,800 are considered permanently missing. That is what
prompted you to make your film. How did you go about doing your research
to create a profile for such a perpetrator?
I did not allow myself to do any research. I had, of course, read and
seen a lot in the media. But I didn't want to end up finding something
that was so interesting or fascinating that I would end up using it or
abusing it to "make art." The stories of real suffering belong to the
victims. They can decide what they want to do with them. Do they want to
flood the publishing world with them? Do they want to process it all
For the film, I created a main character who - and this is perhaps the
shocking thing - wants what most of us want: He wants a relationship,
wants to be happy, wants to experience love. That's what it's all about
- even with this disposition. But what's it like being a pedophile? When
do you realize that about yourself? Probably in the late years of
puberty, when you see that the people you are attracted to stay the same
age, even as you get older.
Then the questions start coming from aunts and grandmothers: 'When are
you bringing home your girlfriend?' That must be horrible. Then many,
many lonely years. Then he gets a house, and all these coincidences and
this disposition come together in a very unfortunate alliance.
character in the film 'Michael' was held captive in a
But not every pedophile is a criminal. Pedophilia is only the
disposition. There are people who do not act on that, but instead, seek
out help or discuss it publicly. It becomes criminal when one indulges
those inclinations. For them, it's then about how to organize their
life, and create as "normal" an everyday life as possible. And there's
nothing better for covering up crime than normality.
You use the camera in such a way as to make the images appear rigid or
frozen. Did the subject matter inspire that, or is that perhaps a
product of the Vienna film genre? After all, one sees similar use of the
camera in films by Austrian Ulrich Seidel…
A lot of people feel that way. But two-thirds of the filming was done
with a hand-held camera. I think this apparent fixed feeling of the
camera has more to do with the very slow narrative style. We edited only
a few scenes. I come from the casting world. People and actors are my
occupation and my passion. I think there's nothing more beautiful than
watching people who can develop something over a period of time. Purely
from their own talent, and not because something is underscored with
dramatic or emotional film music, or through various camera positions or
effects. Providing distance and maintaining a sense of calm have been
important to me from the start.
The film opened in Austria in September. How were the reactions?
Very good, and I'm quite happy about that. I don't think Austria could
have really afforded pushing these things to the side anymore. It was
almost bizarre. Every time I had an important appointment for this film,
some scandal broke out - either the stories of abuse in the Catholic
Church, or a horrible crime from the 60s was brought to light, one in
which an orphanage in Vienna was run like a brothel. That case is now
being clarified. I was almost embarrassed by it all, because it seemed
like some advertising campaign was going on.
Michael Fuith, actors typically scramble to play unusual characters.
But how was it for you with this film?
Michael Fuith: At first, of course, I didn't want to play the part. But
when I read the script, I realized that this was the only real,
intelligent way of addressing the topic. What I really liked was that
the screenplay did not rely on effects that would more or less exploit
What I noticed doing my research was the general silence of everyone -
the silence on the part of the perpetrators, the victims, the family
members. Therapists and psychologists have great difficulty in helping
out because few people are willing to talk, which creates a kind of wall
of protection around the perpetrators. That irritated me.
Then I decided I wanted to give a face to it all - so that people can
talk about it, not just find it in the tabloids and the headlines. So
that people become aware enough about it to talk about it. So, I just
bit the bullet and said, Okay, I want to do it!
Interview: Bernd Sobolla / als
Editor: Kate Bowen