Man Bites Dog (1992): I Need to Take a Shower

Merry almost ho-ho everyone! Ah, the time of yule; when all good intentions of work are tossed aside with childlike glee. While watching just as many movies as always (as my family is similarly addicted to cinema), there seems to be less time to sit and write about what I am viewing. I intend to continue over the holidays, but you know what they say about the road to hell…

However, some films demand reviewing, as is the case with Man Bites Dog (1992) – alternatively known as C’est Arrive Pres de Chez Vous (It Happened in Your Neighbourhood) – a Belgian film directed by Remy Belvaux, AndrĂ© Bonzel, and Benoit Poelvoode, each of whom appear to play themselves in the film (although, one hopes with little to no veracity).

Synopsis: A documentary crew follows serial killer Benoit as he gives “lessons” on killing, life, robbery, race, poetry, and sadism.

A couple of months ago, the hostage and I saw the film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), a movie about a documentary crew detailing the rise of the next horror icon; in the world of the movie, legendary killers such as Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees exist in reality, and Vernon plans to be the next big thing. It was 45 minutes of sheer satiric genius followed by 45 minutes of standard slasher fare. Man Bites Dog is clearly the movie Behind the Mask was based on and wanted to be. Filmed in the mockumentary style, Man Bites Dog is a much more effective movie, in that it is funnier, more daring, and more disturbing.

First of all, and I hate to be the person who has to drag their work into everything, but the filmmakers nailed the psychopath. The superficial charm barely concealing the hotbed of rage underneath; the sensitivity to any perceived slight; the self-aggrandizing narcissism (best evidenced by his need to continually wax poetic on inanities like pigeons); the parasitic lifestyle – not only does it all fit beautifully with the clinical description of psychopathy, but it also perfectly reflects my own limited experience in working with such individuals. When a dinner party with friends goes south, I knew it had to be coming both from his behaviour during the scene and my expectations given his… condition (there must be a better word for this, but give me a break, it’s Christmas). The actor is chilling and believable in every scene.

The movie walks a fine line between horrifying and humourous. The opening five minutes let you know exactly what you are in for: we open on Benoit strangling a woman on a train. But this is not a Hollywood strangling. There is no cutting away, no stylistic relief, no quick death; we watch her death, her struggle, for an uncomfortably long time. However, immediately following this, we cut to Benoit giving instructions on the proper weight ratio to use when dumping a body, and how different factors such as age and midgetry impact that ratio. It is darkly hilarious.

This is the general pattern of the film: periods of Benoit regaling us with advice on how to survive as a serial killer (very funny) with footage of him slaughtering people spliced in between (deeply disturbing). The humour is disarming, particularly as the movie progresses and becomes darker. The crew themselves, while no doubt once merely objective observers of the horror in their minds, become increasingly more involved and swept up in Benoit’s world. We start to hear justifications and rationalizations for the continuance of their work.

As much as I can stomach, Man Bites Dog nearly lost me with one especially repugnant gang-rape scene. I have never handled sexual violence well (Cannibal Holocaust was probably the single most unpleasant film experience I’ve ever had), and this was a little graphic for my delicate sensibilities. Following that scene, I thought the filmmakers had gone too far to recover that comedic element; my fault for doubting them. For while that scene stayed with me (and still stays with me, likely the directors’ intention), I found myself laughing several times before the end and was able to re-engage with the story. The scene was relevant to the characters and the narrative; ergo while unpleasant and graphic, it did not seem gratuitous. As well, I have since learned that the filmmakers were reluctant to shoot the scene, but the woman who plays the victim was supportive of the film and its message, which helped comfort the crew. I don’t know why (perhaps due to how real everything on-screen feels), but it relieves me that the scene was disturbing for the filmmakers too.

I could not recommend this movie to everyone. It is not escapist; at times it is too disturbing to be entertaining, other times people might find the light tone disrespectful given the subject matter. But the purpose of the graphic violence is obviously to denounce rather than glorify such brutality. Several days later, I am still thinking about it. If you like your comedies black (and I mean BLACK) and thought-provoking, I think you’ll enjoy Man Bites Dog.

Best Kill: Watch how Benoit “saves a bullet” with an elderly victim.

Key Quote: “Once I buried two Arabs in a wall over there… Facing Mecca, of course.”

WTF Moment: Benoit’s sadness for the “innocents” (people whom he has killed but cannot gain from financially).

Have a great holidays! Hope you hug your families extra tight this year.


~ by K. Harker on December 23, 2010.

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