When you’re watching famed and reviled French novelist Michel Houellebecq participate in what could possibly be described as a five star abduction and kidnapping you’re not sure what you’re watching. Director Guillaume Nicloux uses a multi camera documentary aesthetic to portray this odd slice of questionable history in the life of the titular man. During a promotional tour for his novel The Map and the Territory, Houellebecq temporarily disappeared. What followed was a plethora of media speculation that something that some of the anti-Islamic sentiment that was contained in his writings had incited an assassination or kidnap attempt from some European terrorist cell. After several days he returned to his tour and the circus rode out of town, so-to-speak. However when this project was announced The Guardian reported that Nicloux, promised to “retrace the week he disappeared” unearthing the “truth, lies, suppositions” and said that the “truth goes well beyond fiction”.
Michel is kidnapped by Max, Françoise, Luc, who are under orders from an anonymous source and kept in their family home for several days in what can only be described as the conditions you’d provide a family member from out of town, with slightly less chains.
There’s almost two spheres that you could look at the film. On the one hand, considering that the events portrayed are even remotely true then it’s as fascinating a cinematic experiment as Abbas Kiarostami’s Close Up, a dramatised recreation of a family being fooled by a man claiming to be a famed Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, with – GET THIS – all of the people who were actually involved. It’s such an unfathomably profound blur between the inherent fiction of documentary cinema while simultaneously dwarfing any other doco-drama or recreation that days, weeks or even years in its wake thinking about it still registers puzzlement. Crediting Nicloux with a similar feat, especially considering that the entire cast are playing themselves makes this an (almost) equally fascinating viewing. Yet looking at it as perhaps a slice of inspiration from a media frenzy that looked to establish the kind of kidnapping situation that Michel’s precious, frail frame could handle. Nicloux continuously diffuses the scenario by showing the victim with perks (cigarettes, booze, novels, a Dr’s visit), he joins the family for dinner conversations and debates and Ginette (Ginette Suchotzky) even empathises with him enough to hire a female companion to alleviate his boredom. Maxime Lefrançois, Françoise Lebrun and Luc Schwarz play the teddy bear kidnappers frustrated with the maintenance required to keep Michel quiet.
Nicloux stages the entire film in a way that you feel right on the precipice of the people participating actually turning to address the audience. None of the performers would necessarily be considered actors. They’re each given their moments to sit before Michel and open up. In a way it’s structured like interviews for Michel building more characters for the eventual novelisation of this world that he’s entered.
The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq is as odd as its author. It’s either an unbearably great unparalleled recreation of one of the most ‘stranger than fiction’ kidnappings to ever take place; or it’s just a piece of experimental whimsy to create one of the only abduction comedies. Or both.
[rating=3] and a half
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Guillaume Nicloux
Written by: Guillaume Nicloux
Starring: Michel Houellebecq, Mathieu Nicourt, Maxime Lefrançois, Françoise Lebrun, Luc Schwarz, Ginette Suchotzky, André Suchotzky, Marie Bourjala,
Michel Houellebecq … Michel Houellebecq
Mathieu Nicourt … Mathieu
Maxime Lefrançois … Max
Françoise Lebrun … Françoise
Luc Schwarz … Luc
Ginette Suchotzky … Ginette
André Suchotzky … Dédé
Marie Bourjala … Fatima