Dir/scr: Michel Houellebecq. France, 2008, 95 mins.
Controversial French writer/philosopher Michel Houellebecq generates curiosity wherever he goes, and his debut as a film maker is bound to attract attention. However, fans looking for anything like the much-debated 2005 source novel for this film are in for a bitter disappointment: this omits all the anti-media fireworks, as well as the author’s obsession with love and sex and his terror of old age. But newcomers who haven’t read the novel will also find the experience disorientating, trying to make sense of the jumble on screen.
A mystifying piece of cinema with minimal commercial prospects once the novelty value has worn off, this preserves some of the futuristic aspects of the novel - but they’re haphazardly and incoherently translated to the screen. The locations are visually stunning; the concept that humanity is doomed to self-destruct shortly is adequately conveyed; and the sect which believes in extra-terrestrials (the Elohim), who have created the human race and will return to make their heirs immortal, is still here. It’s the combination of the above which fails to deliver.
Fundamentally, this is about two versions of the same character. Daniel 1 (Magimel) is the son of a self-styled prophet (Bachau), who, with the help of a scientist (Seweryn) is preparing a new world where procreation is carried out by machines in a sophisticated version of cloning. This is the first step to immortality, for as soon as a person’s flesh weakens, a new ready-made adult is manufactured from his DNA and replaces him instantly. The new breed of the future is called neo-human and lives in specially-designed caves from which it must not emerge as the outside conditions in a post-apocalyptic world are too hazardous for the altered biochemistry.
The second character, Daniel 25, is a neo-human played by the same actor in different make-up. After 25 clonings, he is studying the memoirs of his ancestor and ventures into the forbidden wilderness to look for another rebellious survivor whom Daniel 1 once met on his travels.
The plot, a much-simplified version of Houellebecq’s novel, doesn’t connect various scenes and leaves too many details hanging in the air for no good reason - like the introduction of a horny Belgian policeman, or the fate of the prophet, last seen inside a scanning machine.
And while The Possibility of an Island is visually enticing thanks to Jeanne Lapoirie’s widescreen images, experienced actors like Benoit Magimel, Patrick Bachau and Andrzej Seweryn look lost in the alien surroundings, leading to a suspicion that much was shot that didn’t make it onscreen. Either way, this is not a very auspicious film debut for Houellebecq, who seems uneasy with the role of telling a story from behind the camera.
Black Forest Films
Michel Houellebecq Ltd.
+33 1 4970 0370
Éric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer (executive)
Philippe Delest (line)