Berlinale: The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, an arthouse delicacy
by Vladan Petkovic
- French star novelist plays (a version of) himself in Guillaume Nicloux's humorous and refreshing The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, which world-premiered in Berlinale's Forum
Both quirky and at times ironically serious, The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq [+see also:
film profile] is a welcome refreshment on the festival circuit. France's most famous and notorious novelist plays himself, or a version thereof, in the film by versatile writer-director Guillaume Nicloux, whose biggest hit was the blockbuster Le Poulpe (1998), and who has since made six feature films - most recently adapting Diderot's classic The Nun [+see also:
interview: Guillaume Nicloux
"Based" on the incident in September 2011 when Houellebecq literally disappeared while on a promotional tour for the novel The Map and the Territory, and never offered an explanation for what had happened, the film starts with the author discussing the interior decoration of his kitchen with an architect friend, then music with a pianist friend, and a few more such exchanges before he is kidnapped by three men: former bodyguard Luc (Luc Schwarz), body builder Maxime (Maxime Lefrançois) and free-fighter Mathieu (real-life MMA star Mathieu Nicourt), in a rather original and funny way. They do not tell him who they expect to pay his ransom, nor who ordered the crime, but are treating him surprisingly kindly for kidnappers.
They take him to Mathieu's parents' house in a village an hour's drive from Paris. The elderly couple is there and seems happy to have the famous writer as a guest. Houellebecq himself appears to be content and at ease, and not worried about much except for cigarettes and booze. Being handcuffed is less of a problem for him than not having a lighter available at all times.
While they are waiting for the pay-off, the three men, Mathieu's parents and the author kill time with copious amounts of alcohol and food, talking about literature, body-building and mixed martial arts, and the victim of the kidnapping even gets a present in the form of a local prostitute. This part of the film is also the most satisfying, with Houellebecq getting the opportunity to spew out his uncompromising political opinions that he's infamous for in real life, and which earned him the reputation of being a misanthrope.
In the film, the author seems comfortable in his skin, whichever version of it it is, more so than his captors. But there is rarely any tension between the characters; the atmosphere in the hideout is actually rather amicable. Nicloux's direction is also relaxed and undemanding, but never strays from the demands of proper craftsmanship. A novelist himself, Nicloux has given Houellebecq the lead role in the film in more senses than the literal one, which was clearly the right decision.
The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq is a true delicacy for cinephiles and intellectuals, and could do well on the arthouse market, besides being a must-have for festivals. Produced by Paris-based Les Films du Worso, it is handled internationally by Le Pacte.
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