Magazine article Screen International

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq

Magazine article Screen International

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Guillaume Nicloux. France 2013. 92mins

No stranger to mystificatory game-playing, France's most controversial novelist will get them stroking their chins on the Left Bank - and with luck, far beyond that - with his starring self-portrait in The Kidnapping Of Michel Houellebecq (L'Enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq), a wry, relaxed, extremely entertaining footnote to recent Gallic literary gossip. Houellebecq gamely plays himself (or a fictional version thereof) in a film inspired by the novelist's still unexplained real-life disappearance in 2010; this comedy imagines what might have happened over those few days.

Whether he's actually being himself to any real extent, or sending himself up outright, Houellebecq makes game and surprisingly likeable play on his image as a shriveled equal-opportunities hater.

The no-frills low-budgeter from versatile writer-director Guillaume Nicloux - whose CV ranges from mainstream hit La Poulpe to severe literary adaptation The Nun - gives Houellebecq free range to send himself up in a film that has elements of mock-doc and traces of the French autobiographical-novel genre known as 'autofiction'.

Most of all, though, the film plays like a Gallic answer to Curb Your Enthusiasm, with Houellebecq as a literary Larry David. Highbrow distributors and fests will take a shine to this cheerfully sour pleasure.

Houellebecq has for years, both in novels and interviews, cannily promoted his image as a misanthrope, has become a megastar on the strength of novels such as Whatever, The Elementary Particles (both adapted for the screen) and his recent The Map And The Territory, in which he imagined his own murder. Formally adventurous, outspoken and self-confessedly intolerant about everything from sexual politics to race and religion, Houellebecq revels in his role as a cerebral shock jock - French literature's Lars von Trier, if you will.

He's so controversial, indeed, that it was seriously mooted during his disappearance that he may have been abducted by Al-Qaeda. In this film, the answer is simpler. We first see Houellebecq - shambling, disheveled and gnome-like - sitting in his Paris flat discussing kitchen decoration with a friend, then joining a piano-playing friend. …

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