Man Bites Dog (1992)

*. Man Bites Dog (a not-very-literal translation of C’est arrivé près de chez vous) took me by surprise, and delighted me, when I first saw it sometime in the ’90s. So I was a little worried, returning to it, that it wouldn’t hold up.
*. I was happy to find that I liked it even more. The humour has aged well, even with the pervasiveness of the mockumentary form in twenty-first century comedy. There are laughs here that I either didn’t get the first time or had forgotten. This is still a very funny movie.
*. Curiously, the violence wasn’t as extreme as I remembered it. For some reason I had always conflated the eviscerated body of the woman who is gang-raped with the rape itself, so I thought that scene had played out as a necrophilic orgy. I don’t know why. The mind plays funny tricks of magnification and condensation with memory. I even had it in my head that there had been some cannibalism involved at the end of that scene but I was wrong there too. As I’ve had occasion to say before, the movies that play in our heads are unique creations. And they get stranger as we get older.

*. After such an auspicious debut none of the three filmmakers — Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde, who wrote, produced, directed, and starred — went on to do all that much. Belvaux committed suicide in 2006, but I don’t think did anything after this movie. I couldn’t find much information on Bonzel either. Poelvoorde has kept acting, at least in Europe. But I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything.
*. Is that strange? I don’t know. I guess this movie is kind of a one-off sort of thing. As both a succès de scandale and a gimmick picture there was really no obvious next step. What did Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez do after The Blair Witch Project? And that movie made a lot of money.

*. Ben is most often described as a serial killer but if so he’s certainly an odd variation. He doesn’t have any cooling-off period because he doesn’t seem driven by any kind of inner compulsion to kill. While on the job he often seems either indifferent or as though he’s just playing to the camera. Nor is he a hit-man since nobody is paying him. Is he still a professional criminal? It seems unlikely that he’s making enough money robbing people (even if they are old moneybags) to be able to support the kind of playboy lifestyle he affects. Or am I asking too much in expecting his character to add up?
*. Who he most reminds me of is Johnny, the character David Thewlis plays in Naked (which came out just the next year). He’s the guy, a monologue artist, who knows a little bit about a lot of things, which in turn makes him think he knows everything about anything. He’s as ready to hold forth on the mating habits of pigeons as he is on contemporary architecture and building practices, modern poetry, painting, or how to ballast a corpse. As far as world view goes, he is racist and sexist, but with a smile. He doesn’t seem to have any friends but only knows various people he drops in on. Spending a bit of time in his company (say 90 minutes) can be entertaining, but any longer and he’d only bore and annoy.

*. The point, as I take it, mainly has to do with the complicity of the film crew. They’re gradually drawn in, doing things like helping dispose of bodies, but then effectively becoming not just accomplices but underlings. They don’t go along with Ben so much as they’re bossed around by him. I think that’s an important message, as it tells us something about how the media in general operate. A charismatic or entertaining figure like Ben can leverage those qualities and turn the tables on those who thought to use him for their own purposes. Now consider what someone like Ben could do on the Internet with a YouTube channel. Why hasn’t that movie been made yet? Or would there not be any point?

3 thoughts on “Man Bites Dog (1992)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    This film caught a wave of people looking for shocking content; it’s interesting that so many film-makers catch the spotlight with just one project, but can’t develop that into a successful career. This was a sensation at the time, interesting to hear that it stands up now.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Yeah, after being a bit of a sensation when it came out I wasn’t expecting it to still play as well as it did. Unfortunately, Ben has become a more easily recognizable type in recent years.


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