Interview with Durch die Nacht mit director Hasko Baumann

Regular readers of Hero Culte will have noticed that I have written a few little articles about a German/French co-production called Durch die Nacht mit / Au cœur de la nuit, (aka Into the Night) which is basically two artists or cultural figures spending an evening together on the town.  It’s not a “set-up” or scripted, it’s two people hanging out followed by a camera crew – sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn’t.  I’ve written articles about 3 different shows now (Franco Nero and Fred Williamson; Michel Houellebecq and Calixto Bieito; Alejandro Jodorowsky and Daniel Pinchbeck) and they all happened to be directed by this chap: Hasko Baumann.


The good thing about doing this site is that sometimes people get in touch with me – not often enough for my liking, I’m always pleased to hear from people!  When people do get in touch thought it’s usually a very nice experience.  Hasko Baumann first got in touch when I wrote the Michel Houellebecq review; it was lovely to hear from him and we’ve been in touch again when I wrote the other articles.  In the end, instead of getting all the inside info for myself I thought I should just ask Hasko for an interview for the site.  He was kind enough to agree and here it is:

Hero Culte (HC):  Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into film making in the first place

Hasko Baumann (HB):  I have been a film fan for as long as I can remember.  But at first, I didn’t really dare to go into that field because I had no idea how to and the requirements of the film school applications really scared me off.  After dabbling in – and totally screwing up – studying law I finally ended up studying film and television.  I never graduated though; I did several internships in television production companies and when one of those offered me a job, I just took it.
I started by doing very basic television features mainly on movies, just your regular press junket interviews intercut with movie clips.  Very basic.  But I was only 28 years old and already talking to people like Van Damme or Tim Burton, so I was happy.  I felt ready to somehow integrate my passion for genre films into the work so I started researching for what I thought would be the best and biggest doc on horror films.  This was in 2000 so horror still had a bad rep and wasn’t filling cinemas. I found a producer and shot it on a low budget, managing to get a stellar cast.   You can see the trailer for Screen Terror here:

Hasko doc horror

In the end the producer and I fell out.  I had no access to the footage anymore.   Years later, he hired another director and she turned it into a gender discussion thing.   It even got a limited theatrical release!  I was quite hurt.  But something good came out of it…

HC:  What was your first Durch die Nacht mit show?

HB:  For the doc, I also filmed with John Carpenter.  So when I worked on Durch die Nacht as a producer for the first few shows, I told the production company I usually direct so I’d like to do one myself.  And they said, if you can come up with two great guests you get the job.  I knew that John was totally smitten with German actress Franka Potente (Run Lola Run) so I asked him if he wanted to do the show with her.  He did, and she also said yes, and off I went to LA.  The rest is history, so to say.

John und Franka

It was a difficult shoot because you have to get used to the parameters of the show.   You have to prepare it meticulously, but you have to allow it to lose control when it starts.  We tended to overthink it in the beginning and it took some years to get some routine into it.   People in the business still can’t believe that it’s actually real because no one dares to work like that anymore.

HC:  I have seen the John Carpenter and Franka Potente episode now and it’s great – they seemed quite sweet together.   How John was trying to help Franka find a toilet seat and I can’t believe how much food they were putting away!  I also really enjoyed an episode (this one not directed by you) where Crispin Glover met Juliette Lewis.  But what have been your favourite Durch die Nacht mit shows?  And if you can pick your absolute favourite one?

HB:  People always ask me that.   It’s really hard to say.  There are some that I didn’t direct that are absolutely fantastic.  There was one with a German artist, Christoph Schlingensief, and a politician, Michel Friedman.   It’s still considered the best of them all – and it was only the second episode!   The one with Henry Rollins and Iranian artist Shirin Neshat is brilliant.

HC:  I want to see the Henry Rollins one, I’ve not tracked it down yet…

HB:  The one with Udo Kier and Grayson Perry is great.

HC:  I have seen that one – it was excellent.  I love them both, so it was a pleasure to see them together, although I felt a little uncomfortable for Grayson; I think Udo had fallen in love with him, or at least his female alter ego anyway!

HB:  And there was a fascinating episode with economists Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald, right when the economic crisis hit.   That episode showed how far the programme can be taken.

Regarding my own episodes, which there are 55 of I believe, of course there are those dear to my heart with the artists I love.  Williamson and Nero has to be up there.

Brian Yuzna and porn mogul Pierre Woodman, that is a favorite of mine.   Intellectual and totally sleazy at the same time!  Dolph Lundgren and German actor Ralph Herforth.  It was the first time that people actually understood what a smart and charming guy Dolph is.  James Ellroy and Bruce Wagner, because it was all just show and it gave me the opportunity to direct it like a nightmare in LA.  Glenn Gregory and Midge Ure because I just love those guys and they were amazing.   James Gunn and Michael Rooker because they were so funny.  But if you look at it just from a neutral point of view, I have to say that the one with Moby and Will Cotton was probably the strongest show I’ve done because it is the perfect mix of interesting and insightful conversation, great locations and lots of visual style.

HC:  You know how much I loved that Franco / Fred episode already, but I have to track some of those others down now!  For an English person like me it’s such a shame that we don’t get these shows screened in the UK with subtitles for the ones that are not conducted in English.  There’s loads I’d like to see but my German is not quite good enough for it.  Anyway, who would be your ideal guests for the show if you could have anyone at all?

HB:  I would have loved to do one with Stephen King in Maine.  But he just doesn’t do this kind of thing.   And Falco – remember Rock Me Amadeus? – he would have been absolutely perfect.  But he died years ago.

HC:  What was your involvement in the Eurocrime! documentary?  I see you got a thank you on it.  I love those Italian crime films and it was a great documentary, although it just made me want to see more films and re-see films I’d already seen!

HB:  Oh, that was just a nice gesture of Mike Malloy, the director.   A great guy.   I wanted to do the same doc but it was a hard sell.   He got wind of it somehow and he’d heard about me because of Moebius Redux.  So we got in touch and told each other about our plans.   But I just didn’t have the energy he had in pursuing this basically without money.   I was afraid I’d end up with another Screen Terror.   I would have loved to work with him on it; Mike is just a great, great guy.   And he made his film with love and passion.   It’s not a Mark Hartley documentary.

HC:  My boyfriend just bought your documentary about Moebius but I’ve not seen it yet – how did that come about?  Was it after working with Jodorowsky on Durch die Nacht mit?

HB:  I was actually asked.  Someone important at Arte wanted a documentary on Moebius and I was asked because everybody assumed that I’m a comic book guy.  Well, I am but I’m a Marvel and DC guy and I really did not know much about Moebius!   So I did some research, wrote a treatment and got the job.   It turned into an international co-production and was shown on TV (in different versions) in lots of countries; not least the UK, on BBC4.   It also did a great festival tour on four continents.   To this day, it’s the biggest thing I’ve done.   I actually toyed with the idea of doing a doc on Jodorowsky’s version of Dune after that.   I had already talked to Alejandro about it!  But after Moebius Redux, which wasn’t easy, I needed a break from those people.   And I forgot all about it.   Damn!

Moebius Redux

However, the Into the Night with Jodo came years later.   It was unbelievably difficult to get Alejandro to do Moebius Redux.  But it was very easy on Into the Night.   He mellowed so much after finding the love of his life.   We worked together another time, two years ago.   He always forgets about me afterwards.   What an exceptional human being though.


HC:  Because I love Houellebecq so much and enjoyed your show with him and Calixto Bieito, could you say something about that show?

HB:  Oh well, the Bieito/Houellebecq show was a gruelling experience for everyone involved except Houellebecq.  I have no idea why he agreed to do the show.   Calixto came to me after a few hours and asked “What can I do?”  And because I knew I needed more footage, I said “I have no idea, but keep on doing it a little longer!”  I think Houellebecq actually enjoyed himself.   He worked with Bieito, who admired him so much, afterwards.   In a way, it was a turning point for Into the Night.  Before that show, we often tried to make the shows as entertaining as possible; leave out the lulls, the arguments, the moods.  But what makes Into the Night special is the authenticity.   There’s nothing fake about it.   You have to be honest with it.   So after coming back, I looked at the footage and decided to show the evening for what it was.   I tried to accentuate the uncomfortable moments, but also find the comedy in it.   Some parts I think are very funny; some are unbearable.   It paid off, the episode got rave reviews and I think it helped Into the Night to win the German equivalent of the Emmy.   The show was never the same afterwards.  It’s still puzzling to me how much the Houellebecq fans – and they are hardcore – are siding with him regarding the show.

HC:  Well, I’m a big admirer of Houellebecq but it’s impossible to take his side unless you’re just being bloody-minded and biased.  What about Franco Nero and Fred Williamson?  That was a really fun show.

HB:  That was pure joy.   Pure wish-fulfillment.   I am such a big fan of the Italian genre films of the 70s.   So I put everything in there that I could.   I was in heaven when the two of them sat down with Enzo.  Your article on it was great and spot-on.   But you have to understand something about Fred.   He is The Hammer.   It’s his image.   When the cameras roll, he puts on the Hammer show.   So he’s always competing with Franco who’s a totally different kind of guy.   I’m not even sure if Fred knew who Franco was!   But they are still in touch.   Fred is in Rome right now and maybe he sits there having a Sambuca with Franco.

There was so much good stuff there, but I had to take some of it out because the show got too long. They were playing billard right at the beginning so that was the first pissing contest rightaway.   Oh, and we had this old 70s car for them.   When the people who rented it out brought it to us, there were two men following it around in a van.   They looked like heavies and they didn’t talk.   At all.   So I asked the guy with the car who they were.   And he said, “Oh, they are there in case the car breaks down.”   And the car did break down!  Right in the middle of shooting!   When Franco and Fred were inside the book store, it stood on a piazza and looked like it was on fire!   The two heavies managed to repair it just in time.   The first and only time I saw them breaking a sweat.   They happily took the bottle of whiskey from the car that Fred and Franco didn’t drink.

I really tried to make the show look like something from the 70s or 80s; lots of lensflare, lots of crash zooms and all that great music from those films.   And I think it worked out pretty well.

HC:  It certainly did.  I’m so jealous you manage to meet all these people from the world of film, music and literature.  Next time you’re hanging out with Franco and Fred, put in a word for a Hero Culte interview, please!  And let us know what you’re up to in the future as well.  Thanks for the interview, Hasko!

– – O – –

After this I just want to see some more of Hasko’s shows.  Take a look at these photos Hasko kindly provided (I’ve included his commentary with them):

About Men 1
HB:  About Men, a pilot I did which I’m quite proud of because it looked really cool

HB:  This is from Bambule, a TV show/magazine I was head of for two seasons (the lady in red)

HB:  This is me and George A. Romero and German punk rock superstar Bela B for a show I did: Hotel Bela
HC: I really want to see this one – MUST FIND IT SOON!!!

HB:  This is from Ma Vie – Markus Lüpertz, a doc I did on a famous German painter

PICT0611 - Copy
HB:  This is Stanley Tucci taking pictures in the United Nations building, an unforgettable Into the Night shoot

Rothrock und NortonHB:  This is me and Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton discussing the show

HB:  This is me and Brian Yuzna and Pierre Woodman in Prague for Into the Night

All photos, aside from the Screen Terror screengrab, have been provided by Hasko Baumann and are used on this site with his kind permission.  

Michel Houellebecq and his recipe for Eroticism

Yesterday I watched Michel Houellebecq’s short film La Rivière, which was produced by Canal+ presumably to, ahem!, fill some slot in their programming schedule in 2001.  What slot they required to be filled I can only imagine, because this is essentially a soft core lesbian porno.

Now, I have previously read Will Self’s comment that Houellebecq is “just a little guy who can’t get enough sex” – but I dismiss this because Houellebecq’s height has nothing to do with anything (unless, of course, he is experiencing problems in reaching for some “top shelf” material) and, anyway, Will Self is, in my opinion: (i) just a guy who looks like a feeble-minded monster, (ii) a verbose and tedious writer.  So why take any notice of his opinionated opinion?

But when considering what I thought Houellebecq might have done with a short film entitled “Eroticism seen by Michel Houellebecq”, I had thought it might be more interesting than it was.  I get the lesbian thing – it’s a given that for some reason or other men seem to be interested in the idea of women together – but why, I wonder, does Houellebecq’s idea of eroticism include various tedious (and essentially pointless) conversations between two of the women?

Perhaps he didn’t think that a film that consisted solely of lesbian sex would be “erotic” enough, but I’m not sure why conversations like this would even feature in someone’s idea of eroticism:

Conversation One

Woman 1:  Your house is ancient

Woman 2:  12th Century – it was a Cathari fortress.  There’s been a lot of fighting for this place.  In the 20th Century it became an inn

Conversation Two

Woman 1:  When did the first men appear?

Woman 2:  400,000 years ago – a little higher in the valley

Woman 1:  The memorial isn’t mentioned…

Woman 2:  How old is your map?

Woman 1:  10 years old

Woman 2:  Things have changed…

Conversation Three

Woman 1:  When did you plant them?

Woman 2:  Seven years ago.  They died suddenly

Woman 1:  You don’t know what they died of?

Woman 2:  No, we didn’t try to find out.  We just buried them.  Naked, in the ground, with nothing.  Above each body we have planted a tree

Woman 1:  Are you sure they were the last ones?

Woman 2:  They told us.  They knew they were the last ones.  They knew they were going to die

Okay, so perhaps men do not feature in Houellebecq’s idea of eroticism, so there’s no German guy turning up to fix the photocopier they have installed in their 12th Century Cathari fortress – but is there really any need to make excuses for the lesbian sex?  The boring conversations above explain that there are no men, so this is presumably the reason why these 7 women are now turning to each other to fulfil their sexual needs; they’re lesbians by necessity.  But why they even have to go into the history of the Cathari fortress, I don’t know.

The women don’t bother to have a conversation about why they walk around naked except for a bandeau they wear around their midriff; they don’t explain this at all.  So here’s my imagined conversation about the bandeau:

Woman 1:  Why do we have to wear the bandeau?

Woman 2:  If we didn’t we would be totally naked and that wouldn’t be quite so exciting – I won’t have seen you totally naked until you remove your bandeau

Woman 1:  I see…

Woman 2:  Plus, if we didn’t wear a bandeau we would get chafe marks from our rucksacks

Woman 1:  Now you put it that way, I understand

I shouldn’t knock La Rivière totally – the cinematography is good; the film is well-made.  It’s just that it’s too half-assed to be a porn film and it’s also too boring – I don’t know much about lesbian sex but they really didn’t seem to be making much of an effort.  And on the other hand it’s not interesting enough as a narrative for it to be considered an “art-house” film that just happens to contain some lesbian sex.  But I guess everyone’s idea of what is erotic is personal and different.

In case you’re interested, I’ve made one of my little diagrams summarising Houellebecq’s “eroticism”:

Michel Houellebecq recipe for eroticism diagram


A Night with Michel Houellebecq

I guess it’s some people’s idea of a nightmare – not me, personally I’m a big fan – yes, a night with Michel Houellebecq; the TV show I recently saw on that theme definitely made it look like a nightmarish prospect though.  Well, let’s say it was a little uncomfortable at least…

If you’ve not already seen my post from last week – A couple of things about Michel Houellebecq – that’s also from the same show Durch die Nacht mit…  This is the more in-depth post about the show that I promised/threatened.  Here you go:


So, the concept is that the show matches up two “celebrities” and they spend an evening in each other’s company with the cameras following them on their night out.  They matched up Michel Houellebecq – a very misunderstood and talented writer, in my opinion, and not so much an enfant terrible as a (sometimes) badly behaved adult on self-destruct who wants to épater le bourgeois in his own sweet way – with the Spanish theatre director Calixto Bieito, who makes “sexy”, violent, contemporary versions of operas and classical theatre pieces.


I don’t want to disrespect Calixto Bieito because he seemed like such a lovely man throughout this show – even when having to babysit Houellebecq, who seemed highly disinterested in the entire process – but, firstly, I can’t stand opera anyway and, secondly, the one thing worse than opera to me is contemporary opera.  They showed some clips of the lovely Mr Bieito’s work on the show and, god, it made me want to spit up blood.  I have coined my own term for his type of opera, let’s see if it takes on: wheelybag opera.  Yes, wheelybags are despicable but wheelybags + opera = a pile of w***.  Speaking of which, here are some clips of Calixto Bieito’s work:


During the show you see a clip of a very posh gentleman running out of one of Bieito’s shows to be sick – or to spit up blood? – a kindred spirit maybe!  Anyway, that’s all I shall say on this because I really did like this man Calixto Bieito.

The reason the show hooked up Houellebecq with Bieito was, no doubt, because they both do work that upsets certain people and also because Bieito was, at that point (2006), adapting Platform for the theatre to put on a show at the Edinburgh Festival.  Perhaps Houellebecq could offer him some advice?  Erm… All in good time!

Let’s run through the evening, what happens and what we learn:

  • Houellebecq believes it’s very important that people like him because he feels it’s the only thing that saves him from being locked up – good luck with that, Michel, I like you but somehow not everyone manages to see the good in you


  • Bieito really admires Houellebecq and thinks he’s “a great visionary and above all a great humanist” – he identifies with his work and sees him as “a Romantic of the 21st century” (I have to chip in here and say I totally agree with Bieito on all of this – I think Houellebecq is a visionary who sees far too much and this is part of the problem for some people; Houellebecq offers up visions of a world that people find hard to stomach, but sadly it’s a future that’s far more believable than most would like to admit)
  • Bieito has to make all the effort with the conversation, when he doesn’t he and Houellebecq both sit in silence in uncomfortable “tumbleweed moments” – it’s a shame because Bieito is such a warm person, whilst Houellebecq finds it hard to hold a conversation.  At one point, whilst Houellebecq is having one of many cigarettes, a clock chiming across from the theatre only serves to indicate the length of time they have been stood next to each other in silence on the balcony

Tumbleweed moments with…



Tumbleweed moments without…


  • Bieito tries to make a nice gesture to Houellebecq – he takes him to a bookshop to buy him a book (which Houellebecq accepts – a bit ungraciously) and some music (which Houellebecq refuses – very ungraciously) – “I have no room in my pocket, it’s only a pocket book…” and he doesn’t really like Wagner anyway (he likes Bach’s Mass in B Minor), so he tells Bieito to buy himself some Ligeti instead “I will wait for you. Yes, do it.  The book is enough.”
  • Bieito refers to the theatre as “his” – in what sounds like a tense moment, although it’s possibly just a language problem, Houellebecq asks him “What do you mean when you say it’s your theatre?  Why is it yours?” Bieito is the Artistic Director of the theatre he’s talking about. Ah! The penny drops!
  • When Bieito tells Houellebecq he has a bar at “his” theatre, Houellebecq’s eyes light up, until he sees the bar then he immediately says, “You need to decorate”


  • The most excrutiating tumbleweed moment ensues when Bieito asks Houellebecq for advice on Platform and if he could maybe stay for 3 or 4 days to help him with the text.  Instead of answering the question, after a long and painful silence he finally says what he thinks Bieito needs to bear in mind about how to portray Valerie – “You have to imagine what a woman wants to be according to women’s magazines.  Very good in everything.  I mean – a good worker, a good mother, a very horny slut and everything at the same time.”  He thinks Jade Jagger would make a good Valerie, but here’s what he thinks about Valerie:  “Valerie is a fantasy.  It’s a modern fantasy.  To have success in everything.  In a job, in sex, everything.  And she’s good too.  Morally.  In moral terms.”



  • Houellebecq (regarding the Jade Jagger idea) says, “Sometimes I have good ideas.  Not very often but sometimes.  I don’t have a lot of bad ideas.  I have a few ideas.  I have one idea in two years maybe.  It’s a very slow process.”  Here’s one of my diagrams for you, I’ve got into doing them since the Kaurismäki post:
  • Houellebecq ideas diagramMH21MH22Houellebecq is a bit nonplussed when a guy in the bar asks him to sign an autograph in turquoise pen – “You like to write in turquoise?  It’s strange to write in turquoise.  It’s a beautiful colour really.”  He then scribbles in the guy’s book just so he can admire the colour of the pen


  • Bieito asks Houellebecq if he would like to test out the acoustics on the stage by saying something – he firmly declines
  • Bieito introduces Houellebecq to a famous Spanish actor called Josep Maria Pou, who is a big fan of Houellebecq’s and declares himself capable of playing any of his characters when Houellebecq asks him which of his characters he would like to play.  Considering Josep Maria Pou was at that time playing a man who has sexual relations with a goat (in an Edward Albee play – The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?), it’s always possible
  • When Josep Maria Pou tells Houellebecq, “I can’t speak French”, Houellebecq replies, “You should”!


  • Because Josep Maria Pou has been bragging (sort of) about being able to “play anything”, Houellebecq tells him that he can “play nothing” and a debate ensues wherein Bieito and Pou (ha ha, I just said poo!) try as they might to get Houellebecq to appreciate that it is impossible to play nothing – “Just a man only on the stage thinking is playing”.  Houellebecq just looks bored  (I sympathise with Houellebecq here, they’re taking things too literally and their “craft” too seriously)


  • Bieito takes Houellebecq out to dine at Casa Leopoldo and they have a conversation about relaxing and the pressures of work – Houellebecq’s thoughts on it all:  “There’s not a lot of pressure but it’s a strange life.  I’m not sure I want a life more intense.  But myself I’m not a happy person.  So I like to be in a place where people are sad sometimes.  I couldn’t live in Ibiza…”
  • Does Houellebecq think he could be happier?  “Maybe it is better if you try to have less money and less problems.  Become more modest with ambitions.”
  • Somehow the conversation turns to the question of whether or not all Latinos are macho, believe it or not.  Houellebecq is uncertain but Bieito is firm on this one – “No, don’t piss me off!  Don Juan doesn’t exist anymore.  No.  Only in pieces of theatre.”  Whatever…


  • Steering Houellebecq away from any further racial stereotypes, Bieito opts for something more lighthearted – an easy, fun (two-part) question like “What is your role in this huge masquerade? What is your mask?”  That’s when Houellebecq tells him he knows two things: he is a good writer and he is going to die.  A two-part answer with an unhappy ending.  Although he does concede, surprisingly, that “I think maybe I am simple because to be famous is very good”
  • In the car on their way to the next venue, Bieito and Houellebecq discuss good parenting skills.  Bieito admits he is a softie with his kids but Houellebecq says he was able to discipline his son because he was shocked at his ego and you have to do it because the ego is unlimited.  “You are not the only person in the world.  Slap!  I exist too!”


  • Bieito tries to round off the evening with one of those media events that he doesn’t like going to (which surprises me somewhat) – so they head off to MACBA (the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona) where Houellebecq tells him that he likes these parties because “It’s very easy to have a drink”
  • At the MACBA party Houellebecq perks up a bit (for a short time at least) because he gets talking to a female – his face lights up when he meets ladies, look


The best picture to sum it all up is this one – Houellebecq smiles for the lady, ignores Bieito and Bieito looks sad and lonely:MH43

  • Bear in mind, right, that earlier in the evening Houellebecq had told Bieito that he thinks he could do contemporary art himself because “it’s easy”, but he’s not sure why – how do you think their visit to the contemporary art gallery will go?

MH39Houellebecq somehow finds a nudie lady…

MH40And so does Bieito

  • Bieito tries to get things back on track with Houellebecq by forcing him to accept a hug and then suggesting that they link arms

MH41Houellebecq’s approach to hugging – “look, mom, no hands!”

MH42Aw! Friends forever?  What do you reckon?

  • By the end of the evening, Houellebecq is a bit worse for wear.  Bieito puts him in a car and tells him, “I’m very happy you were here.”  There is no response from Houellebecq.  So poor old Bieito, who has soldiered on all evening, says, “Take care of yourself.  Or not.”

MH7Take care of your blue eyes.

No doubt Bieito needed a hug from his wife when he got home.  You have to hope he managed to get over the experience somehow.  Still, I’d like to meet Houellebecq myself.  Not sure what I would say to him, maybe I’d just ask him to sign an autograph for me.  In turquoise pen.

Here’s a few more Houellebecq pics:


This episode of Durch die Nacht mit was directed by Hasko Baumann.

A couple of things about Michel Houellebecq

I’ve obviously spent a lot of time watching TV lately – I saw this great but slightly uncomfortable TV show about the time Michel Houellebecq met the Spanish theatrical director Calixto Bieito (who specialises in modern interpretations of opera and theatrical pieces, involving mainly sex and violence.  Or so it seems…).

Anyway, I’ll write more on this another time because it’s worth a good write-up but in the meantime, here are two things Michel Houellebecq said he could tell Calixto Bieito:

MH33I’m a good writer.

MH34I write good books.  Yes, that’s true.

MH35I write very good books.  But it’s very good for my ego.

MH36I can tell you two things:

MH37That I’m a good writer.

MH38One of the best maybe, if you want.  Anyway, I will die.

What’s this strange preoccupation that Michel Houellebecq has with death these days?  First, he has himself brutally murdered in his own novel The Map and the Territory; then he is kidnapped in The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (read more about that here on Hero Culte); and then he contemplates suicide in Near Death Experience, which (no pun intended) I am dying to see.  At least he is still among the living for the time being.  We should be grateful for that.  Well, I am, at least.

I’ll write more about this TV show Durch die Nacht mit… / Au coeur de la nuit shortly.  That’s a promise.


Michel Houellebecq needs a lighter

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (aka L’enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq) was released on DVD in the UK last week.  I got my copy on Christmas Eve and watched it immediately.  I’ve seen it twice now and thoroughly recommend it – it’s very enjoyable and laugh out loud funny at moments.

MH Kidnapping 1

The film is made in observational cinema style, as if it’s a documentary – it’s supposed to be based on the rumour that Houellebecq was actually abducted at some point when he failed to turn up for a literary promotional event.  If he was, I can well imagine that it went much the same way as the film did.

Initially we see Houellebecq going about his usual business – discussing the renovation and decoration work he is planning for his apartment; getting a bag of vegetables from a neighbour; writing poetry; moaning about esplanades; complaining that the media stresses him out; criticising his friend’s piano playing; signing an autograph for a fan.  Stuff like that.


Then he is abducted by three guys who follow him to his apartment.  They eventually take him away to a house in the countryside where they keep him holed up until the mysterious “intermediary” pays the ransom and he can be released.

At first Houellebecq wants to know who has ordered his kidnapping; who is going to pay the ransom; when he can go.  Then he all he wants is something to take his mind off the boredom of waiting.  The things he wants most of all are cigarettes, alcohol and reading material.  He complains quite a lot to the kidnappers, which is a fairly good strategy for getting what you want.  They usually give in to his requests eventually but the one thing he never gets is free access to a cigarette lighter:

MH Kidnapping 18

MH Kidnapping 19Note the scary doll in the corner of the bedroom Michel has to sleep in 

MH Kidnapping 21MH Kidnapping 34MH Kidnapping 39MH Kidnapping 40MH Kidnapping 41MH Kidnapping 42MH Kidnapping 43MH Kidnapping 44MH Kidnapping 51MH Kidnapping 52MH Kidnapping 60MH Kidnapping 61MH Kidnapping 62MH Kidnapping 63MH Kidnapping 64MH Kidnapping 74MH Kidnapping 85MH Kidnapping 89MH Kidnapping 90MH Kidnapping 91

It really tickled me that when Michel was arguing with his kidnappers about literature, his threat of violence involved using an ashtray!

MH Kidnapping 79

And when he offers to write a poem for Ginette (the mother of one of the kidnappers and owner of the house they are staying in), Michel can’t resist referring to the lack of lighter in his life:

MH Kidnapping 83MH Kidnapping 84Just give the man his lighter back!

And when he’s not smoking, he is talking about smoking:

MH Kidnapping 86MH Kidnapping 87MH Kidnapping 88MH Kidnapping 94MH Kidnapping 95MH Kidnapping 96

Sometimes Michel looks for other activities to keep himself entertained.  He wouldn’t have been any more entertained at a holiday camp, here’s what he got to do:

Fighting – both watching and being trained

MH Kidnapping 35 MH Kidnapping 36 MH Kidnapping 71 MH Kidnapping 72 MH Kidnapping 73Michel gets Luc in a triangle choke


MH Kidnapping 57MH Kidnapping 68MH Kidnapping 81Ginette gets a local prostitute, Fatima, to visit Michel (twice) by saying he’s “charming” and “not bad” looking

Studying vintage cars

MH Kidnapping 70


MH Kidnapping 82

Learning to whistle

MH Kidnapping 56

Dog handling

MH Kidnapping 67

Bodybuilding displays

MH Kidnapping 58MH Kidnapping 59Michel is most amused when Luc pronounces bodybuilding incorrectly as “bodabuilding”

By the end of the visit, Michel is even considering taking up one of these new activities himself:

MH Kidnapping 97MH Kidnapping 98MH Kidnapping 99

As much as Houellebecq is a fairly demanding kidnap victim, his kidnappers are also a bit moany:

MH Kidnapping 22 MH Kidnapping 53

Their complaints include:

Michel’s dropping crumbies on the floor (eating his sandwich whilst handcuffed)

MH Kidnapping 23

Michel’s got his shoes on the bed (which he is chained to)

MH Kidnapping 24

Michel’s smoking in bed (he’s chained to the bed)

MH Kidnapping 25

Michel’s drinking too much (his defence is “With a meal, two glasses of wine isn’t excessive”)

MH Kidnapping 32

Michel’s smoking at the dinner table whilst eating (no excuse, he’s just being clumsy)

MH Kidnapping 46

If the above is not enough to convince you that this film is well worth a viewing or two, well, then you might as well watch Lord of the Rings with its “capes and swords and pretty boys”.

Houellebecq rocks and the rest of the cast are great too – all of them are very realistic, to the extent that you can almost believe it’s really happening.

MH Kidnapping 5MH Kidnapping 77MH Kidnapping 101

Go and see The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq now or buy it on DVD so you can watch it many times.  The film is directed by Guillaume Nicloux and has been released by Studio Canal with English subtitles.

One final thing, check out Ginette’s impressive collection of wolf plates:

MH Kidnapping 16

What’s on the menu, Michel Houellebecq? Part One

Ever since I read Whatever (Extension du domaine de la lutte) I have been hooked on Houellebecq.  I can’t explain what it is about his writing that I like so much – maybe it’s his seemingly matter-of-fact turn of phrase, or maybe it’s because I feel some of the world weariness that he conveys through his protagonists, I’m not sure – but I find him a joy to read, if you can say that about someone who appears to have a more or less pessimistic view of life and the world in general.  Anyway, whilst most people dwell on the sex tourism, misogyny, genetic modification or the supposed “Islamophobia” when they think of Houellebecq what I (mainly) think about is the food and drink mentioned in his novels.  I don’t know why that’s so important to me, but then again I don’t know why I like to have lists, why I collect quotes, why I count things, why I like to look for connections – that’s just the way I am, I guess.


In any case, here’s my list of what was on the menu in Whatever:

  • At least four vodkas at the work colleague’s party
  • Saupiquet tuna à la catalane
  • A foul coffee from an automatic machine with Catherine Lechardoy
  • A red bean taco in a Mexican restaurant, eaten whilst Jean-Pierre Buvet (a priest) talks about sexuality
  • Caramelized vermicelli as dessert, at which point J-P Buvet advises Our Hero to find God again or to go into psychoanalysis
  • A brandy, when J-P Buvet tells Our Hero that Jesus is the answer
  • A coffee
  • Unspecified farewell drinks for Jean-Yves Fréhaut
  • At least three glasses of (possibly) Crémant at Louis Lindon’s leaving do at the Ministry of Agriculture
  • Lunch with Tisserand and Schnäbele at the Department Headquarters for Agriculture building: unspecified hors d’oeuvre; steak béarnaise; crème caramel
  • A beer as an apéritif with Tisserand
  • A plate of chips drowned in mayonnaise and a beer with Tisserand at The Flunch
  • A beer in a student cafe with Tisserand
  • Cheese and sliced bread (bought at Nouvelles Galeries to take back to the hotel) and a six pack of Tuborg
  • Unspecified meal in the cafe where an Alsatian dog menaces the customers
  • Pizza, eaten standing up, alone in an establishment that was deserted – and which deserved to remain so
  • Unspecified dinner with Tisserand
  • Pastries brought to the hospital by Tisserand after the pericardial
  • Delicious apple tart – made by the wife of the worker who had been operated on and was in for his sixth stay at the hospital
  • At least three cognacs at the cafe opposite the station
  • A waffle (or something) from the waffle-seller’s stand near Buccaneer Cottages, whilst exchanging a few words with a dentist
  • Spaghetti at the pizzeria with Tisserand
  • A couple of bourbons in The Port of Call
  • A bottle of bourbon, purchased for 700 FF at the club
  • Raisin bread bought in the neighbourhood
  • Unspecified meal with a business manager and a managerial secretary
  • A coffee with the new immediate superior
  • A hamburger in a fast food joint before the appointment with the psychiatrist
  • Sliced bread
  • Communal meals at the rest home, although Our Hero vomited up solid foods straightaway
  • “What there is left to eat in the house” (four biscuits and a tin of sardines), before heading off to Saint-Cirgues-en-Montagne
  • A beer in the bar of the Parfum des Bois hotel
  • A hearty dinner from the ‘gastronomic menu’ (which is absolutely delicious) – crying whilst eating, emitting little sobs
  • Breakfast before leaving by bike for the Forest of Mazan

Other interesting food related concepts or incidents raised in Whatever: the ‘rural socialist’ Ministry of Agriculture representative brings a book called Cheesemaking and the Challenge of New Technologies to the meeting; ordering dinner by Minitel (an online service available through telephone lines); a less “savoury” concept mentioned is the idea that butcher boys masturbate using escalopes!; Tisserand, when he’s losing it, says he feels ‘like a shrink-wrapped chicken leg on a supermarket shelf’; the weapon purchased by Our Hero is a steak knife from the Unico; the young girls at The Port of Call are referred to as ‘fresh meat’; Our Hero hurls a tin of petit pois at his bathroom mirror; and Our Hero’s parents ate cold chicken after Our Hero was conceived (on a fake Pakistani rug).

Well, I don’t know about you but I rather enjoyed that little feast.  We shall have to wait for the Monoprix gourmet meals – they’ll be on the menu with Houellebecq another day!