Film Festival Movie Review


Michel Houellebecq The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (2014) Film Review from the 13th Annual Tribeca Film Festival (TFF), a movie directed by Guillaume Nicloux and starring Michel Houellebecq, Mathieu Nicourt, Maxime Lefrancois, Francoise Lebrun, and Luc Schwarz.

The most interesting thing about The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq is in its lead character: the real-life French author Michel Houellebecq portrays himself in the film, which is shot to resemble what one might find in a documentary. Houellebecq is a film that takes great pains to blur the line between fact and fiction, and the result is a loose illustration of Houllebecq’s neuroses without a great deal of substance.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq is often very entertaining. It reminded me at times of a more low-key episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, trading in Larry David’s angry shouting for Houellebecq’s dry sarcasm. When it wants to be, the film can be incredibly funny, but it also has more on its mind than just laughter.

The film follows Houellebecq after he is kidnapped while on a book tour (apparently mimicking a similar event, when he disappeared in real life three years ago). Most of the film sees Houellebecq as a hostage, but he is far from distraught about the situation. He actually seems pretty content, and he and his kidnappers get along splendidly. The strange relationship he builds with his kidnappers is the most compelling aspect of the film, leaving the audience to wonder whether this is all a joke to him or if he understands the gravity of what has happened to him.

There’s a lot of discussion about art in The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq. The nature of it, how different people perceive it, what it means for society, etc. I found it interesting, but it was nothing that hasn’t been covered in better, more insightful films, either. There’s a novelty to watching an author like Houellebecq wax poetic about his favorite novels, and there’s a dialogue exchange about THE LORD OF THE RINGS that just absolutely kills.

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq displays a fair amount of wit and a good deal of critical discourse. It’s a pleasant, enjoyable time that evaporates from the mind shortly after it ends. It’s the film equivalent to watching the sunset after a long day of work: oddly comforting in its way, and able to stand on its own as a nice experience for anyone willing to give it the time of day.

Rating: 6/10

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About the author

Michael Smith

Mike Smith is an avid filmgoer from New York who loves to hear his own voice – luckily his work as a podcaster on FilmBook allows him to do just that. Mike graduated from The College of Saint Rose in Albany with a degree in communications, and is ready to dole out critical analysis of all your pop culture fixations. Mike is the host of FilmBookCast and can frequently be seen at his local movie theater, patiently explaining to his friends that Superman Returns is a misunderstood masterpiece.

  • bledcarrot

    But I felt like this review pretty much missed the whole point of the film, which was to serve as an analogy for Houellebecq’s being thrust in to the public eye as a result of his books, and both the downsides and upsides of this fame. This is pretty well contrasted with the first part of the film, pre-kidnapping, with its boring depiction of Michel’s day to day mundanity, and the consequent ‘ramping up’ of the humour after the kidnapping. Life suddenly gets interesting for Michel. People want to know about his writing. They want his opinions on things. They give him good wine, food, social interaction, women, teach him new things and eventually even give him a car. There are downsides too. He’s restricted, chained, has demands placed on him, has to ask for a lighter everytime he wants to smoke. People attribute things to his books that he denies are in there (exemplified at dinner when one of the kidnappers insists he wrote that he had bought a cushion of Lovecraft’s). They attack him based on these misunderstandings, hate him, threaten him. All of this has happened throughout Houellebecq’s controversial career. They’re the upsides and downsides of fame and life in the public eye.

    The ‘conversations about art’ aren’t meant to be insightful, because it’s not the content that’s the point, it’s merely to represent the kinds of conversations Michel ends up in after being thrust in to the realm of intelligentsia and public life, the types of conversations in the ‘literary scene’.

    The end result of all of this is that Houellebecq is a little conflicted about the whole situation. Like he says in the end, he wants to be free, he wants to go home, it’s all been a bit much. But he has had a good time too. Would it be OK if he stops by for a weekend once in a while, and rents out the cabin out back?

    Basically this is Houellebecq’s ambiguity regarding his fame. It’s an honest look at it, neither good, nor bad, but a mix of both. He likes the benefits, but it certainly has its downsides and ideally he’d like to be able to dip his toe in every once in a while without being held captive by it.

  • Roy Stuart

    Yes, quite true, but even a greater point is missed and that is Michel’s appearance as of late-what happened to his upper front teeth? More important is why hasn’t had some bridgework done? Is he making some kind of point by completely distorting his appearance, purposely trying to look like an old bum. Catch the scene where he is trying to talk and eat a sandwich, it’s not an easy scene to watch.

  • etiennes

    Yes, we get it, you wrote the same thing on imdb. Thing is, nobody will be able to tell you what has happened to his upper-front teeth. Maybe it was a shtick for the movie, maybe he really is that care-free. What’s your point?

  • Roy Stuart

    The point is why doesn’t he do something about it-is HE trying make a point.?

  • etiennes

    Who knows. It’s up to you to make a point out of it nor not. If you can’t, then it’s probably not for you. Nothing to worry about, just move on to something else.

  • Roy Stuart

    I worry sometimes that he may be losing it.

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