NRC, 2023-03-01

Houellebecq verliest rechtszaak over seksfilm KIRAC

Tristan Theirlynck, NRC, 2023 March 3

Original in Dutch

Translation to English

Houellebecq loses court case over sex film KIRAC

After shooting sex scenes with Dutch art collective KIRAC, Houellebecq tried to prevent the distribution of a sex film starring himself. This failed for the time being, it emerged in a Paris court on Friday.

French writer Michel Houellebecq (Subjugated, Elementary Parts) lost his summary proceedings against the distribution of a sex film starring himself on Friday. A French judge ruled that the film’s trailer did not violate his privacy and ordered the writer to pay a small sum of money to Stefan Ruitenbeek of KIRAC, the film’s producer.

On 23 January, the whole world watched famed French writer Michel Houellebecq roll around in bed with a young woman. It was just a short clip, without nudity, from the trailer for the Dutch art collective KIRAC’s 27th film. But it promised more: 11 March would see the release of the film. In it, the 67-year-old writer would be seen having sex with several young women in a hotel in Amsterdam.

Although the scenes were shot with Houellebecq’s consent, his mind appeared to have changed. It emerged in early February that the writer wanted to thwart the film’s release. Houellebecq and his wife Qianyun Li distributed a press release: they had hired a lawyer to ban the screening and exploitation of the film, commercial and non-commercial. The grounds: the film would unlawfully damage Houellebecq’s privacy and image.

On 28 February, summary proceedings were held in France. Court documents show that Houellebecq is suing Stefan Ruitenbeek of KIRAC for compensation of 200,000 euros (100,000 for him, 100,000 for Li). In addition, the film must not be distributed, and Stefan Ruitenbeek must remove the trailer from all channels. And KIRAC should no longer be allowed to use the following sentence: “He wrote to me, saying that his planned honeytrip to Morocco had been cancelled […] his wife had spent a month working from Paris to arrange the prostitutes in advance…”

KIRAC’s main argument, as put forward by lawyer Virginie Tesnière, was that Houellebecq signed a contract consenting to the production and broadcasting of the “artistic, fictional, documentary, performative, essayistic, erotic and pornographic” film, with no right to influence it. Footage shows that Ruitenbeek’s claims about prostitutes are based on statements made by Li and Houellebecq.

More importantly, most of the filming took place in Amsterdam. And the contract contains a clause showing that the legal commitment between Houellebecq and Ruitenbeek was made before Dutch law, so only the Dutch court would have jurisdiction in a dispute.

The court decided Friday that the French court has no jurisdiction to decide on the publication and distribution of the final film. What the court does have jurisdiction over is the broadcasting of the trailer. But it did not rule in favour of Houellebecq in that. In addition, Houellebecq and Li must pay 2,000 euros to Stefan Ruitenbeek of KIRAC, plus the costs of the proceedings.

It is still possible that Houellebecq will appeal. Houellebecq could also still challenge the publication of the full film in the Netherlands. However, that would be an uphill battle. Dutch privacy laws are less strict than French ones.

KIRAC will not meet the release date of 11 March promised in the trailer. Partly due to the court case, the film has been delayed. Court documents now estimate its release to be in early May. The premiere night on 11 March at the Betty Asfalt Complex in Amsterdam still seems to be going ahead, with a different interpretation.