Elementary particles on France 2: a TV movie “which smells of cigarettes and c..” from the…

This evening at 9:10 p.m., France 2 is broadcasting a single event in two parts taken from the novelist’s book, carried by Guillaume Gouix (“A French affair”), Jean-Charles Clichet (“A Beautiful Story”) and directed by Antoine Garceau (” Ten percent”).

elementary particles on france 2: a tv movie "which smells of cigarettes and c.." from the...
France 2

First French adaptation of the cult novel by Michel Houellebecq (winner of the November prize in 1998) after a first film attempt by German director Oskar Roehler in 2006, Elementary particles tells the story of two half-brothers, Michel Djerzinski (Jean-Charles Clichet), genius researcher specializing in molecular biology, and Bruno (Guillaume Gouix), teacher and tortured pleasure seeker who finds love in a post-sixty-eight campground in the early 2000s.

A film made of many flashbacks set in the 1960s, we discover their childhood alongside their mother, Janine (Pascale Arbillot), aa former hippie who has always refused to raise her children in a conventional way, but also Annabelle (Déborah François), Michel’s childhood friend with whom he falls in love.

A fierce satire of modern society undermined by loneliness and individualism adapted for France Télévisions by screenwriter Gilles Taurand (Twist in Bamako). A work of adaptationcolossal” which took four years and required strong biases to adapt a book of more than 500 pages, which spans three decades and in several countries, into a unitary 120 minutes.

We must recognize the courage and risk-taking of the public service on a prime time program. I think that few channels in Europe would dare to tackle such a sulphurous book, such a divisive author. It’s not a ratings hit for the channel to have this done, it’s really to accompany an artistic audacity“says the producer.

The challenge is not to betray Houellebecq and to bring his work to the general public, he explains. “Make it accessible, but remaining amoralsums up Guillaume Gouix. The screenwriter had to make choices: cut parts of the story, sacrifice a few characters and reinvent other things to create a link between the different paths of Michel, Bruno and Anabelle.

When I first read the script, I thought to myself that there was a very good chance that I was going to have to restructure the narration in editing, and in fact not at all“, continues the director Antoine Garceau, who had already collaborated with France 2 by working on the series Ten percent and César Wagner.

The film navigates between two temporalities, those of Michel and Bruno’s childhood at the end of the 1960s and that of their adult life at the dawn of the 21st century. “I edited the film in the order of the script, with very few exceptions. I didn’t need any editing tricks so that we could understand the passage from one era to another, and the follow-up we have of these characters.

How did the actors confront the work of such a controversial author? “Houellebecq is as attractive as it is repulsive“, comments Guillaume Gouix. “He looks at humanity with a scalpel. I have the impression of seeing a man dissecting a frog, but with humans.

On the tray, Déborah François (The School of Life) has fun ask everyone about their perception of the novel, which she herself had not read and discovers through the script. “VSIt’s so divisive that each told me the book in a different way. I found that fascinating. It was really a good idea to adapt it, because there are so many things in it that it leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

Without marrying everything [Houellebecq] tell me, it was a bit of a dream to play this character, both funny and cynical, repulsive but successful… He is in a permanent paradox. That’s great for an actor“, explains Jean-Charles Clichet, seen in Mytho and Une Belle Histoire.

In his very writing, we feel that there are terribly lazy passages, and then a kind of flight of literary magic… We go from big to small, from ugly to beautiful. He is a great author today. Afterwards, we can discuss his positions, but I’m not rested on it“, he quips.

For me, Houellebecq is the greatest living French writer.“, adds Patrick Mille, who plays Bruno’s resigned father. “So I expected a lot from the adaptation of Particules, and all the themes were well transcribed in the allotted time. It shows an era that is not at all that of today, it’s unthinkable. It’s the essence of fiction, to show things that now seem unthinkable.

elementary particles on france 2: a tv movie "which smells of cigarettes and c.." from the...
Déborah François (Anabelle) and Jean-Charles Clichet (Michel)

Significant evolution compared to the novel, the female characters, in particular that of Anabelle, have been enhanced, according to Anthony Garceau. “In Houellebecq’s book, the male characters are always a bit desperate. Emotion and attachment pass precisely through the female characters, to go and understand these two brothers. The portraits of women around them help to better understand who they are.

These two half-brothers suffering from neuroses, one psychic and the other psychological, are like two parts of the same character. “For the director, Gilles Taurand made these two characters gain in humanity compared to the book.

He made sure that we not only observe them in an ultra-clinical way, but that we expand a little more on their psychology, thatthat we understand their emotional blockages – Michel’s loneliness, Bruno’s obsessions – and that we are more in empathy with them. Which is not necessarily easy…

But respecting the spirit of the novel also means not obscuring all the scenes”a little sulphurous“, according to Antoine Garceau, in particular on the sexual obsessions of Bruno and the spirit new-age 1960s conducive to orgy scenes. “It’s prime time that smells of cigarettes and ass“adds Guillaume Gouix.

But also on certain difficult sequences, in particular the trauma suffered by Bruno as a child when he was at boarding school. “I think we treated them as they should,” continues the director.

The novelist, meanwhile, did not ask to have control over the adaptation, and simply validated the choice of screenwriter and director. It’s his way of doing things, either he doesn’t want his books to be adapted, and when that’s the case, he chooses who he gives them to, and then it’s a new work that is made from the his.

A figure as divisive as it is essential who served as a reference for Michel’s character as a solitary scientist. The novelist was very close to the biologist Jean Rostand in his youth; very comfortable with scientific concepts, it is an area that has always fascinated him, putting it at the service of his surgical study of contemporary society.

The chance we have with Houellebecq is that he is a media character who, we cannot deny it, talks about him in his books. Even if it’s autofiction, we have references“, concludes Jean-Charles Clichet. “I tried to imagine a sort of possible, probable Houellebecq.“More human too, perhaps.

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