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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2019 Competition

Review: Thalasso

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- Guillaume Nicloux follows up The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq by milking the joke for all it's worth, with help from Gérard Depardieu and the odd comedic spark in this all-too-familiar sequel

Review: Thalasso
Michel Houellebecq and Gérard Depardieu in Thalasso

In 2014, French filmmaker Guillaume Nicloux ruffled some feathers in the Forum section at the Berlinale with The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq [+see also:
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, a gambit in the form of a faux documentary cobbled together from two explosive elements: a kidnapping and Michel Houellebecq. The controversial French author behind works including Atomised, The Possibility of an Island and The Map and the Territory happily lent his services to stage (or be the victim of) an abduction by a family of oddball but charming criminals. This premise branches out into a kooky and entertaining exploration of the absurdity of life, viewed through the eyes of the author, compelling and repulsive in equal measure, who gives us his take on events while the director keeps a safe distance, careful not get sucked into the whirlpool.

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Five years later, Nicloux fancies another run at it, and this time he is ready, magnanimously, to set aside his scruples and join in the high jinks himself. He invites one of his favourite actors to work with, Gérard Depardieu (another of those ambiguous faces, just as compelling/repulsive as his co-star), to join the fun at a spa resort on the French Atlantic coast. What could possibly go wrong? Thalasso [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
is a rehash of a formerly successful concept, released in France in August and which the committee of the 67th San Sebastián International Film Festival have seen fit to select as a contender for the Golden Shell.

With its hodgepodge of ingredients, it’s love–hate fare, to say the least. Following a lengthy exposition of the first instalment, a time jump brings us into the present day and the scenario at hand: Houellebecq has checked into a thalassotherapy spa to get his health back on track after a life of excess and abandon. Dips in the pool, massages and cryotherapy treatments keep us in comedy moments until he runs into Depardieu (who else?) while sneaking a cigarette, which is, of course, strictly verboten. The pair soon find that they share a number of other interests besides smoking, such as downing wine while their captors aren’t looking, sounding off about their latest failings and conversing self-importantly on truth, death, God and the actresses they slept with in the days when they still had some stock with the ladies.

Nicloux’s plot device becomes apparent when our friends the kidnappers arrive on the scene, the matriarch of the clan having disappeared and the others having reached the conclusion that Houellebecq must have something to do with it. From now on, this becomes the propelling narrative of the film, but it runs out of juice fairly quickly, revealing a bit of a hole in the original concept. Why throw together such volcanic personalities only to leave them languishing in the wings? For the hell of it, apparently.

It’s a caper that raises the odd laugh at times, for instance when another guest insists that Houellebecq is really another author entirely (Yann Queffélec), when a Sylvester Stallone lookalike breaks up our heroes’ stultifying routine or when a stranger strides over to loudly skewer them for being “a disgrace to France”. Rein in your expectations, and you might not be too disappointed.

Thalasso was produced by Les Films du Worso, with Wild Bunch responsible for international sales.

(Translated from Spanish)

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