Monday, June 11, 2007


Entirely without any planning I did, I had the opportunity to see Elementarteilchen last night.

I am not sure how many in the audience had read Houellebecq's original book. I had and figured that it would be impossible to make a reasonable movie out of it.

I should have phrased the challenge differently. The book is utterly unreasonable, completely extreme in its humour and grimness. And what happens is that Oskar Roehler catches the main themes of the book and makes a movie with characters one might actually care about. The laughter is never so extreme as when one reads the book, nor is the agony so awful. After all, one can put the book down and come back later, but it is tricky, even with a DVD, simply to walk away, and then return later.

The movie is quite surprising in my view. It captures what is human and interesting about human life and the sadness created by the sixties that Houellebecq wanted to document, and one actually cares enormously much more about all the characters than I ever cared about those as I read the book (this is again an element of the form - I can put the book down - I expect to live continuously for a couple of hours with these people).

More surprising, and greatly to my relief, the movie transplants the book to Germany - who would have thought this could work? But it does, and spares us what might well have been taking the original too seriously.

So now we have a lovely story of two half-brothers, each screwed up, trying to figure out what to do with his life, one a brilliant scientist, one a writer addicted to sex desperately trying to find love. Moritz Bleibtreu was utterly superb as the tamed (compared to Houellebecq's) Bruno, and Christian Ulmer was a lovely and touching Michael (which again blunted the Houellebecq's character's determination to wean humankind off sex - he did not make that credible at all but one liked him more for it). Martina Gedeck's Christiane was utterly heartbreaking, which is roughly right - she is the test of Bruno's capability to love and he fails in the film too.

Roehler created at least one scene that made me, a geek of long standing, squirm horribly, as the teen Michael uses his mathematical analyses to avoid confronting the stunning Annabelle, and the challenge he thinks she creates for him, which we learn was NO challenge at all. Houellebecq, make no mistake, got a ton right in that crazy book, and Roehler has done a lovely job of distilling what the book might have been.

There is a stunning collection of German actors and actresses in this (actually a complaint in one comment at IMDB), but then what could one want?

I was slightly reluctant to attend this. Now I hope we get a North American DVD soon! What a wonderful film! Thanks, Oskar Roehler, for finding in Michel Houellebecq's book, the movie that was in there, about people one could care about. The closing sequences were lovely, and not how I remember closing the book.


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