Monday, March 06, 2006

Man Bites Dog (C'est arrivé près de chez vous)

by Chris

I rented Man Bites Dog because the Netflix description sounded similar to Natural Born Killers. I was interested because I wanted to see if NBK borrowed anything from MBD, which predates Killers by 2 years. This really isn't the case; these are two very different movies that tackle the same subject (how the media promotes violent killers by making them celebrities) in very different ways. Both are extremely violent films, but Man Bites Dog has much less flashy visual style and it has a sense of humor. A very, very dark sense of humor, but a sense of humor nonetheless. I have a sick definition of funny as well, so I really enjoyed this film.

Filmed in a black and white handheld documentary style, Man Bites Dog is about a serial killer named Benoit (Benoît Poelvoorde) who is being followed by a documentary film crew. Okay, so we got a movie in a movie, got it guys? The director, Remy (Rémy Belvaux), is a quiet and sensitive guy who is quite easily manipulated. He is a determined filmmaker, so much so that he barely pauses when Ben asks him to help drag a recent victim away. Ben manipulates Remy and the rest of the crew into becoming more and more complicit with each murder.

There isn't much explanation for why Benoit does the things that he does. His parents are sweet, he is socially and mentally well adjusted. He has a taste for fine booze, art, and architecture. He is arrogant, bullyish, and gratingly charismatic. It seems to me that Ben's drive to kill is an extension of his bully nature. He prays on people weaker than himself, supports his lifestyle by killing edlerly folks for the pension money they keep hidden under their beds.

It seems to me that Ben's only real motivation is pride in his line of work. He brags about his "business" to all of his friends (who are scared to death of him). He boasts, and when called on these boasts he will go to great lengths to prove how good he is. He uses the film crew for various purposes throughout the movie. In one scene he uses them to get into an old woman's house for an "interview." In another he pounces on a passerby that turns to the camera and says, "am I on TV?" Ben's ultimate plan for Remy is to provide exposure. He yearns to be in the headlines of the daily paper, getting caught seems to be his retirement plan.

The performances are good, although not very naturalistic since the movie is a satire. Poelvoorde hits the right notes, playing the brash, jock-wannabe serial killer without holding anything back. The direction is quite good, you can see Benoit's facial expression change just a little bit at the end of some takes, because the serial killer character would be mugging for the camera (think of a murderey version of David Brent from The Office.) The shootout and chase scenes are unlike any I've seen before; the handheld documentary style is combined with some excellent framing to provide awesome visceral kicks. The story is quite good and even provides a few interesting twists.

Also, did I mention that it is a comedy? Although there are some very disturbing scenes, they are usually countered by an amusing sight-gag or one of Ben's inappropriate comments. It also helps that he seems to be instantly punished by karma for some of the more terrible stuff he does. There is some really funny material in this movie, you just have to be depraved enough to let yourself laugh. Here is a good litmus test, taken from the film goofs section of IMDB:

"Goofs: Revealing mistakes: When Ben has suffocated the little kid by putting a pillow on its face. The body stops stumbling and is supposedly dead, but the chest still makes breathing movements."

If that fun little fact made you giggle at least a little, then this movie is right for you. If you read it and thought, "what the hell is funny about that!?" then congratulations on your healthy state of mind and for god's sake avoid this film.


Blogger Brian said...

This is a movie that I've been curious about since Criterion announced they were releasing it. But alas, I probably used up my yearly rental a few weeks back when I rented Dogville.

3/06/2006 11:23:00 PM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

I saw this movie back in high school with some friends and we all laughed and were deeply disturbed at the same time. Your last sentence hits it right on the button. Definitely for the [temporarily] depraved.

3/07/2006 12:17:00 AM  

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