Film of the Day - Man Bites Dog


Benoît Poelvoorde in Man Bites Dog

Benoît Poelvoorde in Man Bites Dog

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

4 October

 

 

Belgium is created, 1830

On this day in 1830, the state and kingdom of Belgium was created, after a revolution against the rule of King William I which saw the southern, mostly Catholic, significantly French-speaking states break away from the largely protestant, significantly Flemish-speaking United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Though ostensibly linguistic and religious in origin, the revolution was in fact fuelled by economics – the “Belgian” territories were more populous though far poorer, more rural, less well represented in government, than the northern “Dutch” territories. On being granted independence by the Treaty of London in 1830, the Belgian National Congress voted for Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld to be their king (he had previously turned down the crown of Greece). Interestingly, he was known as Leopold I, “King of the Belgians” rather than King of Belgium, to suggest that he was king by appointment rather than by some mystical relationship to the soil. Belgium was unusual in an age of nationalism for being a country of mixed ethnicities – French, Dutch and German. After becoming independent the country rapidly industrialised and set about gaining colonies and an empire. One thing that didn’t change was its reputation as the “battlefield of Europe” which had been gained from the 16th century onwards. In fact both the First and Second World Wars saw bloody battles fought in Belgium.

 

 

Man Bites Dog (1992, dir: Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde)

The journalistic phrase “man bites dog” refers to a news story that is noteworthy because it reverses the normal run of events. It’s what this Belgian film is about. Though it’s also about the violence itself too, as evidence there’s the onslaught of appalling brutishness and terrible degradation that co-directors/stars Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde visit upon us, the audience, in the name of entertainment (theirs rather than ours). We’re following a documentary team keen to discover what makes a serial killer (played by Benoît Poelvoorde) tick. Ben is a fun guy, charming, family-loving, clever. But as the “documentary” progresses we start to see another side of him as he subjects the camera crew, and us, to a series of increasingly savage scenarios involving violence, torture, rape and murder, with the crew becoming increasingly involved in the grisliness. Shot in handheld black and white and made on a tiny budget, Man Bites Dog is a key exhibit in the development of the mock-doc, a genuinely different type of film when it debuted, which paved the way for all the found footage and mock-docs to come, from the Blair Witch onwards. For reasons that must be guessed at it is generally hated by film critics, who seem to be upset that it appears to be sitting on its hands when it comes to taking a moral position. This is a bad man, so why isn’t the film saying so? The answer could be because the film-makers aren’t making a film about the killer but one about the people making a film about the killer. Satire often unsettles critics, who for all their sophistication would rather that audiences, and themselves, were treated as passive consumers, rather than as part of a system of cultural production and consumption, which sounds a bit like Communism. Michael Haneke’s Funny Games – which operates in similar territory – got pretty much the same bum end of the pineapple.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Funny and shocking, a hard one to pull off
  • The daddy of the ugly mock-docs
  • Poelvoorde the comedian in a completely different role
  • Uncompromising

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Man Bites Dog – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

imdb poster Man Bites Dog
Man Bites Dog (1992)
Run time: 95 min
Rating: 7.5
Genres: Comedy | Crime | Drama
Director: Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel
Writers: Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel
Stars: Benoît Poelvoorde, Jacqueline Poelvoorde-Pappaert, Nelly Pappaert
Trivia: In this dark satire, a film crew follows a ruthless thief and heartless killer as he goes about his daily routines. But complications set in when the film crew loses their abjectness and begin lending a hand.
Storyline A camera crew follows a serial killer/thief around as he exercises his craft. He expounds on art, music, nature, society, and life as he offs mailmen, pensioners, and random people. Slowly he begins involving the camera crew in his activities, and they begin wondering if what they’re doing is such a good idea, particularly when the killer kills a rival and the rival’s brother sends a threatening letter. Written by Ed Sutton <esutton@mindspring.com>
Plot Keywords: film crew, satire, marriage, grandmother grandson relationship, boxing
Box Office Budget: BEF 1,000,000 (estimated)
Gross: $205,569 (USA)