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Man Bites Dog (1991)
Man Bites Dog (French: C'est arrivé près de chez vous, It Happened in Your Neighborhood) is a darkly comedic Belgian crime mockumentary starring Benoît Poelvoorde. In the film, a crew of filmmakers follow a serial killer, recording his horrific crimes for a documentary they are producing. At first dispassionate observers, they find themselves caught up in the increasingly chaotic and nihilistic violence. Since its release the picture has become an international cult film. Ben is a witty, charismatic serial killer who holds forth at length about whatever comes to mind, be it the "craft" of murder, the failings of architecture, his own poetry, or classical music, which he plays with his girlfriend. A film crew joins him on his sadistic adventures, recording them for a fly on the wall documentary. Ben takes them to meet his family and friends while boasting of murdering dozens of people at random and dumping their bodies in canals and quarries. The viewer witnesses these grisly killings in graphic detail.
Man Bites Dog's Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde, who also wrote/directed/produced as part of a cadre of guerrilla filmmakers who) is unapologetic about his vocation (serial killer). In fact, he's darn proud of it, and he aims to teach us a thing or two not just about the hard work of a madman, but about his racist, misogynistic, and generally misanthropic philosophy too.
A black comedy that's as dark as night, Man Bites Dog is a worthy successor to A Clockwork Orange as this generation's most telling and unflinching look at our views on violence. But Man Bites Dog filters that through the lens of the media in a biting damnation of our fascination with televised tragedy -- the more real the better. Think you're above such behavior? We all need only remember back a year ago to how we were all glued to the TV as the World Trade Center repetitively collapsed to remind ourselves that we're all violence voyeurs at heart.
Oliver Stone would try to repeat this mastery in 1994 with Nautral Born Killers, but he ended up with a garish and headache-inducing mess. Stone's movie is unreal to the point of laughability. Dog is so real it hurts: When Ben's parents (Poelvoorde's real folks) are interviewed about their son, they weren't told that he was playing a mass murderer in the movie. Their comments are as shocking as they are oblivious. It's as achingly funny as moviemaking gets (without fart jokes).
Of course, we're meant to despise Ben. The movie's real point is in challenging us over what we're supposed to think about the people behind the camera, who quietly capture his doings on film. Aren't they conspirators in his crimes, despite never pulling the trigger (or jabbing the knife into someone)? Of course they are -- and in fact, before long they're all pitching in on a gang rape and a few of them get shot by Ben's adversaries in the course of the film production. Sure, these guys are creeps, but what about the somewhat less complicit mainstream media? Makes ya wonder...
This Criterion DVD includes a great video transfer and a crisp (yet monaural) sountrack -- this was a very low budget film, even by European standards. An interview with the filmmakers is lively yet barely understandable, and their 1989 student short film No C4 for Daniel-Daniel is a telling look at what they would eventually achieve with this film. Also worth noting -- the blood-splattered look of the disc itself (with the center hole an erstwhile bullet hole) is one of the most inventive I've seen.
Aka C'est arrivé près de chez vous , literally It Happened in Your Neighborhood.