Michel Houellebecq : « Que celui qui n’a jamais signé un contrat sans le lire me jette la première pierre. »
Michel Houellebecq, La Règle du jeu, 2023 March 23
Translation to English
An animal would have more rights
I borrow this title from my Dutch lawyer, Jacqueline Schaap; this sentence was her first reaction to reading this monstrous contract. Two questions immediately arise.
What human being would be capable of proposing to another human being to sign such a contract? The answer is simple, written in the contract itself: the director of Kirac, Stefan Ruitenbeek. Certainly other individuals, of an equivalent moral level, whose names have not been recorded in history.
Which human being would be stupid enough to sign such a contract? The answer seems just as simple: Michel Houellebecq. I’d like to propose another, more general possibility: someone who hasn’t read it (as I’ve told you elsewhere, that’s not quite my case: I’ve read clause 1.3). And here, let the one who has never signed a contract without reading it cast the first stone.
I don’t think there will be many people, except of course those who have studied law. Society is not based on a contract, or even on contracts, since almost no one reads them; really reads them, down to the last clause, and not forgetting the annexes. Society is based on a certain mutual trust. This trust can be severely damaged in some cases, and this introduces us to another world, a world I don’t really want to live in. A few loose examples from recent history:
– an airline pilot deliberately steers his plane into a mountain, so that it crashes into it, with its passengers.
– a doctor deliberately kills one of his patients. Here I resist the temptation to reopen the debate on euthanasia; but I hardly resist.
– someone proposes to someone else to sign such a contract, presenting it as a trivial, boring but necessary formality to be completed as quickly as possible.
Before I leave you to conclude, I would like to draw your attention to some clauses, so that my humiliation is perfect. 1.4, which is largely retroactive. Clauses 4, 6 and 8, which I think are unnecessary to comment on.
Anyway, that’s it. That’s where I am.
Photos of the “Contract” that Stefan Ruitenbeek had Michel Houellebecq sign, in emergency.
To understand the case
The Dutch director and member of the KIRAC collective Stefan Ruitenbeek convinced Michel Houellebecq to participate in a porno-artistic performance in December 2022.
It was agreed that the writer would wear a mask and would not be be recognizable.
But, trapped by wild filming methods, with images taken on the fly, Michel Houellebecq puts an end to the enterprise.
A few weeks later, he discovers online the trailer of the X movie “Kirac 27”, which does not respect the agreements made.
Since then, the writer fights to forbid the use of his image but is opposed that a “contract” has been established. An aberrant contract, signed in a hotel room, that La Règle du jeu makes public here.
Michel Houellebecq’s open letter to Dutch director Stefan Ruitenbeek.
It so happens that after my brief stay in Amsterdam, I went to Guadeloupe for three weeks to shoot a film by Guillaume Nicloux, starring Blanche Gardin and myself, among others.
The reason I mention this is that Guillaume Nicloux’s working methods could at first glance be compared to yours – at least more than those of the other directors I have had the opportunity to work with.
On the one hand, he makes a point of shooting the scenes rigorously in the order of the script, in order to be able to take into account the changes that can occur in the characters, and especially in the relationships between the characters. He does not refrain from modifying a scene according to the scenes already shot, but it is important to note, however, that he consults the actors on the modifications he wishes to make.
On the other hand, and this is one of his great originalities, the dialogue is sometimes improvised, or rather “semi-improvised” – that is, its general theme is fixed, but the actors are free to choose their own words. This is particularly true of Michel Houellebecq’s The Kidnapping, whose original script was not supposed to be more than twenty pages long.
There is, however, an essential difference in your ways of doing things.
The difference is first of all, quite simply, a question of courtesy. Coming back to my stay in Amsterdam, I was annoyed from the very first seconds, as soon as I stepped onto the station floor, when I realized that a member of your team had started filming my wife and me without having asked our permission, without even having spoken to us. My first reaction at that moment should have been to grab the camera and throw it into the first canal that came along. I’m a pretty mild-mannered person, and I took it upon myself to keep things from getting out of hand. But my annoyance grew every time you and your team entered my hotel room, camera in hand, having already started filming. In other circumstances, especially during meals, Mr. Ruitenbeek even filmed us without our knowledge.
These procedures belong to gutter journalism more than to cinema d’auteur. During a subsequent argument, I promised, given the deterioration of the situation, to reimburse you for the hotel room – which I did (by the way, I had taken my train tickets, I paid for my meals on the spot, and you have your own filming equipment). Things continued to escalate, until one night I asked you to leave my room with your cameras. We haven’t seen each other since.
There is another difference, which touches on aesthetics. During the shooting of a “normal” film there is a whole ritual, which begins with the costumes and the make-up. Once the technical team is ready, the shooting of each shot is enclosed in a very specific time, punctuated by precise injunctions: “Motor”, “Action”, “Cut”. All this may seem ridiculous or outdated to you. I don’t think so. This ritual, for me, helps considerably the actor, who tries to reach a level of concentration to get into the character he has chosen to play. It is largely because of it that film and theater – through other rituals – can be considered arts.
You will object that your method is quite different, that you capture fragments of reality, which you then organize into a meaningful continuity. The only answer I can give is that, I must admit, our conceptions of artistic work are radically opposed. After having experimented with your working methods, I am convinced that the result will necessarily be mediocre, and that I will regret, as an actor, having been associated with this enterprise.
But above all, this artistic opposition hides another, even more fundamental one: on our radically divergent conceptions of loyalty, courtesy, and respect for others. My mistake was not to react immediately when I felt it. I am paying for it today by the deflagration of violence caused by your trailer, which irreparably affects my private life. I formally oppose that the shots you obtained by deception (since, I repeat, they were filmed well before the signature of the contract, and that it was then only an OnlyFans account) be used in your films, this one or any other to come. My wife shares this position.
This letter was previously published on the website of the program