Fans and followers of the provocative French writer Michel Houellebecq, author of 'Platform' and 'Whatever', will surely gain the most from this tricksy, rough-and-ready, documentary-style comedy. 'The Kidnapping of Michael Houellebecq' stars Houellebecq as, well, Houellebecq, or at least a version of him as concocted by writer-director Guillaume Nicloux.
First we see Houllebecq's impish, mumbling figure sitting in his flat in a high-rise Paris block and walking about his neighbourhood. Then, suddenly, he's kidnapped by a trio of bruisers. He's gently bundled off, first to a flat and later to a bungalow next to a scrapyard. His captors are burly but amiable; the elderly parents of one of them even gets on well with their new guest. But soon everyone tires of Houllebecq's smoking, drinking, gurning and smart-arse chat. And who is ever going to pay a ransom for him anyway?
It's never made explicit on screen, but 'The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq' is a cheeky response to rumours that swirled around the writer when he disappeared during a promotional book tour in 2011 – namely that he was absent because he'd been taken captive. Here, absurdity is piled on absurdity for broadly comic effect: the kidnappers seem aimless; Houellebecq is fairly unbothered; and the world is, presumably, unmoved.
The film is unadorned and scrappy in style, and was surely at least partly improvised and thrown together with speed. It leans towards the repetitive, and you wonder if there are more in-jokes here for Houllebecq aficionados than is obvious. Mostly, it's a platform for Houellebecq to send himself up, whether he's wrestling on the floor with one of his kidnappers for fun, obsessing over his lighter or demanding seconds with the local prostitute brought in to please him. As a lightweight literary in-joke, it's amusing enough.