The ticket is too small. It reads "The Kidnapping of Michel...". It's a safe bet that a film called "The Kidnapping of Michel..." would not have brought out the crowds. But the full title is "The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq", and that one little addition changes everything. The first two showings at this year's Berlin Film Festival were sold out and five minutes before the third showing a queue of at least a hundred people are waiting for the doors to open, eager to see the début of Michel Houellebecq, the 2010 Prix Goncourt winner, on the silver screen.
The name says it all . The author of Atomised and The Map and the Territory is a star: perhaps the most famous French author abroad right now. Houellebecq's style and personality fascinate both public and press, not least of all thanks to his unexplained disappearance in September 2011, when he seemed to mysteriously vanish from the face of the earth. Speculation was rife but this disappearance has remained unexplained.
Mixed martial arts and a cigarette lighter
This is the mystery which Guillaume Nicloux's film The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq intends to shed light on. And of course, Michel Houellebecq could only be played by one man: Michel Houellebecq himself. The story is so absurd that you wonder for a moment whether it might not contain a morcel of truth. Houellebecq gets himself kidnapped by three beefy bodybuilders, who take him to a house in the Loir-et-Cher region of France. There, between deep literary conversations with his jailers, a tentative initiation into mixed martial arts and his obsessional need for a cigarette lighter, Houllebecq gradually settles into his role as a prisoner. Is this a case of Stockholm Syndrome, or a realisation that an unexpected event has livened up a life which no longer really interests him? Upon his release, Houellebecq tells his kidnappers, who have now become his host family: "I would have liked to stay longer. I'll come back and visit."
Clip from Guillaume Nicloux's film (subtitles in English).
fortress of irony
With his eleventh feature film, Guillaume Nicloux wanted to shed light on Michel Houellebecq "the man", but it is unclear whether the film really meets his objective. The film is very, very funny. The absurdity of the situation and the often bizarre reactions of the prisoner and his jailers in the face of this hostage-taking make the whole thing truly hilarious. But it is irony which reigns above all. And, as so is often the case, irony is there to build a fortress around a character to prevent access to his true identity. How to tell fact from fiction? Are we watching the real Houellebecq or a character constantly playing himself? "Maybe he ordered his own kidnapping", one of the Beagle Boys even starts to wonder. It's not the most unlikely scenario.
Guillaume Nicloux's the kidnapping of michel houellebecq will be released in cinemas soon. @
Article originally published on the Goethe Institute's blog Berlinale Bloggers.