One of the happy surprises of the Berlinale is “L’enlevement
de Michel Houellebecq (The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq).” Guillaume Nicloux’
90-minute film is a faux documentary inspired by the real-life and
still-unexplained disappearance of the celebrated and reclusive French author,
who didn’t show up for part of a 2011 book tour, leading to a media frenzy and
even to worries of an Al-Qaeda plot, and then returned days later, lips sealed.
Nicloux’ genius is to fill in the blanks, and he does so hilariously.
It helps, of course, to know at least a bit about
Houellebecq, who is as ornery and controversial as he is talented. In novels like
“Platform” (2002) and “The Elementary Particles” (2000), he has openly
criticized Islam and free economic markets, which he feels create winners and
losers in love as well as life. Many critics consider him to be sexist,
misogynist, racist, not to mention pornographic and generally repugnant. He is
certainly an eccentric, drinking and smoking to excess, and he appears worn
well beyond his 57 years.
In the film, three working-class men accost the author and take him to a remote house, where he is treated and fed well; he even becomes friendly with his kidnappers as well as one man’s parents, in whose house they are staying. Over several days, there are discussions and arguments,
body-building and cage-fighting lessons, drunken parties, poetry readings, even
arranged sex with a young woman from the village. He wages an absurd battle to
get back his precious Bic lighter from one of his minders, who turns out to be
a Gypsy. “You’re a Gypsy?” says Houellebecq. “No wonder you annoy me so much.”
Nothing happens and everything happens — and never an
explanation of his kidnapping.
Meanwhile, Houellebecq gets to sound off on the topics of
his choice, which may be why he agreed to make the film. What’s brilliant about
it is even when you know in the back of your mind that you’re watching a
fiction, you never for a moment feel it’s anything but an entirely plausible
and enjoyable documentary. I’m still not absolutely certain.