The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq Guillaume Nicloux

Guillaume Nicloux’s hostage comedy features a prime slice of stunt casting that works like a charm. The stunt man—and genuine selling point—is award-winning novelist Michel Houellebecq, an equal parts admired and reviled figure who in the long shadow of recent current events might more likely be the subject of a story entitled The Killing of Michel Houellebecq.

But this is, more innocently, The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, directed by French journeyman Guillaume Nicloux, who wrote this scenario about a curmudgeonly writer whisked away from his family and held against his will in a safehouse by basically genial thugs. The fussiness of the movie’s “Michel” amid fairly comfortable living conditions, which extends to requests for adequate reading material, might sound like a relatively known comic quantity.

On screen, however, Houellebecq is not as easily encapsulated, and, rather delightfully, his quiddity seems to bend the film around him. Moving at his own pace and utterly unconcerned, he drawls intellectual commentary and grows increasingly convivial, his distinctive fish-mouth frown part of his off-kilter affect. This isn’t exactly acting—and as his captors warm to him, you get the sense that their cracked smiles are involuntary—but then again it can’t be said that Houellebecq is a nonprofessional. After all, he’s a professional novelist, at once all there and kind of not, making for a fascinating screen presence.