sat 15/06/2024

DVD: The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq

DVD: The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq

Little comes as expected in Guillaume Nicloux’s wry, eccentric French comedy

Lost for words: one of the very rare moments in the film when Houellebecq is silent

There’s a wonderful drollery to Guillaume Nicloux’s wry and eccentric comedy The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (L‘Enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq) which is quintessentially Gallic. Three years ago the enfant terrible of French literature disappeared for some days from a book tour, giving rise to rumours as extreme as that he had been kidnapped by Al-Qaida.

The truth – though “truth” is a very relative word in this world – as shown in the film is that Houellebecq was vanished to the suburbs of Paris where he was held in circumstances that couldn’t be friendlier.

Houellebecq plays gamely along as himself, an absent-minded, hangdog fellow who’s never without a cigarette, and frequently with a glass of wine, circumstances that we don’t normally associate with kidnappings. Nothing then of the atmosphere of Houellebecq’s most recent Goncourt Prize-winning novel The Map and the Territory, in which the writer not only wrote himself into the story, but even killed himself off.

His happy-go-lucky Paris life is portrayed as consisting largely of eccentric, inconsequential banter

It’s hard not to be charmed by the writer’s occasionally infuriating eccentricity – a far cry from some of the more controversial views expressed in his writings – as he’s casually abducted in a trunk from his happy-go-lucky Paris life, one portrayed as consisting largely of eccentric, inconsequential banter, by a trio of tough guys, who gradually prove themselves to be among life’s most inept kidnappers. No blindfolds, and even the aged and gentle parents of one of these unlikely villains appear on the scene. The mystery is who’s actually behind the whole plan – the unlikely goons even speculate it just might have been the writer himself – and who pays the ransom: it certainly wasn’t François Hollande, as Houellebecq jokes.

Kidnapping... is made in a low-budget, semi-documentary style, with a barely wavering downbeat tone that hardly ever raises a voice: the only quarrels here tend to be about literature, or who’s got the lighter. He even gets a birthday cake, and as a special present a visit from a local lady of the night. It's far from improbable that the writer will be returning again to this place of his brief hide-out – only next time as a welcome guest. No extras in this DVD release, so we don’t get to hear anything more of Nicloux’s intentions. They’re not hard to guess at, however: to make an eccentric, small-scale tale that would scoff at any attempt at deeper analysis, and is totally French in style, a blague du jour.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq



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