A low-budget, NC-17 rated picture that falls somewhere between art film and snuff movie, MAN BITES DOG is a one (very black) joke film, and its graphic depiction of violence and sexual assault shocked many viewers.
A film crew is making a low-budget documentary about Ben (Benoit Poelvoorde), an ordinary-looking fellow about whom the neighbors would no doubt say, "quiet, always kept to himself," and "very nice, always offering to help with the groceries," the pathetic cliches upon which people fall back
when they wake one morning to find the police removing body bags and the press on the lawn, waiting for a quote about the fiend next door. But Ben's neighbors haven't been asked what they think of him, because he hasn't been caught yet. MAN BITES DOG's foundation is an nasty notion: Ben's life as
a serial killer is being recorded by a crew that treats him as though he were a kosher butcher or an undertaker. He's in an unpleasant line of work--we're all a bit put off by death--and he's eccentric, but fundamentally part of the order of things.
The film unfolds in a series of vignettes. Ben murders people by various means and visits with his serenely oblivious bourgeois family. Later, he's arrested and sent to prison, but escapes. The filmmakers resume their project. Ben incurs the wrath of organized criminals, who slaughter his
parents and young, flute-playing protege. He's aghast. Finally, they encounter another crew in a deserted building, making a film about another serial killer. Ben and his entourage are all murdered.
MAN BITES DOG is the hybrid offspring of Rob Reiner's pseudo-documentary, THIS IS SPINAL TAP, and the notorious home invasion scene in John McNaughton's HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, in which Henry and his buddy Otis videotape themselves as they break into a family's home and murder them.
Given the perfection of MAN BITES DOG's cinema verite look and the fact that its crew is also the crew of the film-within-the-film--producer/director/writers Remy Belvaux and Andre Bonzel, and writer/editor Vincent Tavier (all using their real names to further compromise the sense of fiction)--the
effect is disturbing, as it ought to be. It's a high-concept film, to be sure, though not one the average filmmaker would want to pitch in Hollywood. It's funny, but one doesn't feel good about laughing; the movie leaves a lingering sickish feeling.
Ben is the incarnation of serial killer-as-bore; the shallow, stupid, self-absorbed Charles Starkweathers and John Wayne Gacys who are anything but the icons of which delicious nightmares are made. Ben is no Hannibal Lecter; he's smug and banal, droning on about the best way to weight down a
body. Men, women, children, dwarves: there's a different formula for each, and it's on the tip of his tongue. He pulls down a dead black man's pants to see if it's true they all have large penises, then shares his trite views about race relations. He recites squirm-inducing poetry, expounds on the
best way to prepare shellfish, and pontificates about life in all its wonder.
In addition to its views on the glamorization of serial murder, MAN BITES DOG offers a wicked send up of notoriously talky French filmmaking--the most unbelievable thing about the movie's narrative conceit isn't that the crew is calmly shooting a vicious serial murderer as he goes about his
business, but that they've chosen to follow the unbearable Ben. His loathsome, self-absorbed monologues are torment worthy of the ninth circle of Hell, but with a cup of black coffee and a supply of smelly cigarettes he could pass at any cafe for a run-of-the-mill French intellectual. (Violence,profanity, nudity, sexual situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: A low-budget, NC-17 rated picture that falls somewhere between art film and snuff movie, MAN BITES DOG is a one (very black) joke film, and its graphic depiction of violence and sexual assault shocked many viewers. A film crew is making a low-budget doc… (more)