Three days in the life

Houellebecq on The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq.

“If I’m being honest,” says Houellebecq, “I thought making the film would be interesting because it was a new experience. That might be a very selfish reason, but it was the main one. And I have not been disappointed.” This is not too surprising: rarely has a film given itself over so completely to allowing its subject (and its real-life subject at that) to define and embody every detail. To some, it will be received as a cinematic oddity, a vanity project; to others, a postmodern metafiction of the most high-minded kind. All this from an attempt to fill in the details of a missing few days in Houellebecq’s life in 2011, when he failed to turn up for a Netherlands book tour.

The disappearance lasted only three days, and Houellebecq afterwards claimed he’d simply forgotten about the tour. But the ensuing media tizzy, with some even claiming it was the work of international terrorists, sparked an idea in the mind of Guillaume Nicloux, a film-maker of some repute in France (his last film, The Nun, starred Isabelle Huppert). Having persuaded Houellebecq to appear in his 2012 TV movie The Gordji Affair, about a 1980s diplomatic scandal, Nicloux says he found him “very stimulating and interesting”.


Dryly funny, introspective and unashamedly admiring of its lead, the film manages something that many would have assumed impossible: it shows Houellebecq to be quite nice – in stark contrast to his scratchy, irritating public persona. Except for the bit where he readily has paid-for sex with a penniless local girl (named, with a very Houellebecqesque ethnic charge, Fatima).