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Man Bites Dog – Review

2 Jun

A triumph of film, no matter how big or how small, is still a triumph nonetheless. Seeing enormous spectacles of grandiosity that lays their budget out for all to see is great, but it’s equally great watching a much smaller effort that turned out to be something truly special, and in this case infamous. Man Bites Dog (or C’est arrivé près de chez vous, which translates to It Happened in your Neighborhood) is a controversial film made on a shoe string budget that is recognized now as a cult classic (depending on how you look at it) and also registered in the Criterion Collection, which is all the more note worthy. On its own, it’s also just a phenomenal, brilliantly evil movie.

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Rémy (Rémy Belvaux) and André (André Bonzel) are two documentary film makers who are in the midst of making a movie about a psychotically pleasant serial killer named Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde). The film makers feel honored to be let into Ben’s life as he shows off his family, friends, and girlfriend. On the other hand, he also takes them on a tour of his brutal side where he finds joy and money in killing men, women, and children of all races and ages. As the documentary crew go on more and more trips to kill, they soon become fascinated with all of the work that goes into murder and soon find themselves gleefully becoming part of them. Before too long it seems that Ben is now making the movie and the film makers are his key players.

There’s many different ways that one can analyze this movie. Some say it is an examination on violence in the media, others say it’s about the way society finds beauty in horror, and others say it poses the question of “how far is too far” in terms of documentary film making and reality television. Well, to put it simply, André Bonzel wrote in an introduction for the Criterion Collection DVD that it’s simply a movie about making a movie. Belvaux, Bonzel, and Poelvoorde wrote, starred, and directed this movie together with a budget that pretty much didn’t exist and calling in favors from friends and family just so they could get the movie done. No message or theme can ever shine through this film more than the thought of the perseverance throughout the entire year it took the film makers to complete this film, and now have it honored as much as it is.

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If Man Bites Dog was made with a good sized budget and beautiful lighting with actors that we all know, I’m absolutely positive it wouldn’t be as affective as it actually was. The black and white film makes it look gritty and real and keeps with the cinéma vérité style that the film makers were trying to recreate. Sure, this movie isn’t pure cinéma vérité, but it recreates it very well and makes it feel like these two documentarians went out, found a serial killer, and got mixed up in his gruesome business. There’s also a hefty use of long takes in this movie, and anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows how much I adore the use of long takes. I just can’t stop thinking about how much the style lends to the success of this movie.

All of this style would be out the window if it wasn’t for a good screenplay and good performances. In a film made like this, these two factors may not be as strong as you’d want them to be. Even in Clerks, the writing is great, but some of the acting redefines the word “iffy.” That’s not the case in Man Bites Dog. All three of the main actors give great performances, but the one that really stands out is Benoît Poelvoorde. He brings the character of Ben to life with such cartoonish realism, it’s almost scary. In fact, there are times when it is scary. The times when he is spouting his bullshit philosophies on religion, race, and architecture, I can’t help but laugh. When he’s anyway around people, it gets scary. This movie may be scary and brutal, but it’s also laugh out loud funny, and that’s saying something.

Man Bites Dog is brutal, hilarious, and surprisingly effective film that hasn’t left my mind since I finished watching it. Seeing a group of film makers go out with almost no money or resources and make a movie that has become praised by film buffs and critics is always great to watch. It’s pretty much on the same level as Clerks but on the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a very dark film that may or may not want to make you analyze it. Personally, I don’t feel the need to analyze it. I take it as what André Bonzel said it was: a movie about making movies. If you think you can stomach the unflinchingly awful content, check out Man Bites Dog.

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