I must admit I’ve never read the novels of Michel Houellebecq; reviews always made them sound like the ugly manifestations of a benighted, maleficent soul. Funny then that it should turn out he, at least on screen, is a riveting, witty figure, straight out of a Woody Allen movie.
I’ve been wracking my brain for another instance in which an author plays him- or herself on screen, but can’t come with any other examples. Did director Guillaume Nicloux already know Houllebecq? Why on earth didn’t he choose Mathieu Amalric or some other fine French actor to play the part? In any case, it turned out to be a brilliant casting coup.
The film opens with Houllebecq, a small, stooped, rodent-like man, with thinning hair, seemingly literally toothless, going about his everyday business of being an infamous, highly intellectual French author who repeatedly rails against Islam and the dead culture we live in. Nicloux intercuts this with scenes of three men, a large, mulleted Gypsy, a cauliflower-eared mixed-martial arts fighter, and a dead-eyed bodybuilder. Now, would you be scared to death for the outcome? Or, when these three men indeed follow Houellebecq into his apartment, place him in a ventilated box, and carry him off to an isolated house and hold him for ransom, would you simply go on behaving like yourself, which turns out to be an oddly compelling figure?
The kidnapping gang also includes the old pensioner parents of the bodybuilder, and they turn out to be the peacekeepers of the lot, always calming down the brutes when dinner conversations inevitably turn into shouting matches. And these brutes are all won over by Houellebecq himself, who intersperses his gleanings of the world with endless, needling requests for cigarettes, his own lighter, and red wine… oh, and his need for a woman! Houllebecq’s response to who that woman turns out to be, his amenability to learning MMA and bodybuilding, however hilariously pathetic it may be, and his deep conversations with all three of them, especially the Gypsy, mark him as, of all things, a curious and liberal soul, without any predetermined, dogmatic fixations.
A lovely film that had me joyously laughing, to the point of tears. And the way Houllebecq holds those cigarettes! Ah, the French, they are a funny race. I’ll be reading Houellebecq’s novels, soon. – [DVD]
DVD Release Date: 8/25/15