The Kidnapping Of Michel Houellebecq

***1/2

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"The rules of the funny games of fiction and documentary do not apply here - as long as the addictions are taken care of, anything goes."

In September of 2011, notorious French author Michel Houellebecq disappeared from a book tour, which led to speculation in the International press that he had been kidnapped. Guillaume Nicloux's The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (L'Enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq) re-enacts what could have possibly happened, had the writer actually been kidnapped.

From this absurd starting point, the literary star, playing an abducted version of himself, drinks, chain smokes and debates himself through interactions about HP Lovecraft and the art of whistling with his rural, bodybuilding, small-time criminal kidnappers. Who learns what from whom and what life is all about is revealed scene by scene, in the "gypsy" settlement kitchen, the chintz bedroom (complete with handcuffs and life size doll), in a wrestling embrace and tender encounters with the neighborhood prostitute.

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The film begins with two men talking about renovating a kitchen. If you hadn't seen a photograph of Houellebecq before, you would never guess that the dishevelled, nicotine-tinted man who "doesn't like light", is the one we are going to trail. He walks through Paris, sits on a bench to smoke and write what looks like a poem, stops a taxi, then doesn't take it.

He visits a woman who might be his sister. She gives him a pale, clingy striped sweater. He has to try it on. He doesn't like the piano because it is "too accessible". He smokes cigarettes and drinks wine. They talk about the late Sixties being high in music and low in literature.

Then he is kidnapped by a bodybuilder and his extended family. Three men take him to a poor garden compound in the suburbs where people live in containers and the star author spends what seems more and more like a vacation in captivity. He stays with a kidnapper's parents who have dinner parties with birthday masks and party hats and who arrange for him to pass the night with a young woman named Fatima who lives nearby.

Hardly the life of a PoW. Getting his fill of wine and convincing his abductors to give him back his lighter, become his number one concern. The rest is conversation about what Houellebecq wants to go on about - architecture, politics, poetry. "Le Corbusier was a failure. He had a totalitarian mindset. Concentration camps were his ideal," says Houellebecq pre-kidnapping. In captivity, he explains that "you can't write when you wait for a phone call," as he watches his abductors' wrestling matches on DVD. The father of one of the kidnappers is Polish and Houellebecq talks about the history of Poland being "a dream".

When Guillaume Nicloux's portrait of the author as a frayed man turns away from Mr Scandal and his whiny cravings and lingers on the surroundings, a more potent sketch of contemporary France emerges.

In novels, abductors without a mask are usually not a good sign for the abductee, he comments calmly before moving into a conversation about Lovecraft. The rules of the funny games of fiction and documentary do not apply here - as long as the addictions are taken care of, anything goes.

Les vacances de Monsieur Houellebecq without even testing his tennis serve!

Reviewed on: 11 Apr 2014
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The story of what might have happened when author Michel Houellebecq disappeared during a promotional tour.
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Director: Guillaume Nicloux

Starring: Michel Houellebecq, Mathieu Nicourt, Maxime Lefrançois, Françoise Lebrun

Year: 2014

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: France


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