Man Bites Dog
Directed by Rémy Belvaux. Starring Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoit Poelvoorde, Jenny Drye, Jacqueline Poelvoorde. (1992, NR)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 2, 1993
Is it a comedy? A documentary? An underground gore-fest? Man Bites Dog, the first feature film from Belgian director Rémy Belvaux, is all of these and much more, a ghastly, shocking and explosive debut with all the genuinely ruthless ability to disturb as an oily blue-barreled revolver jammed in your mouth. And it's funny, too. Taking on the increasingly omnipresent trend of reality-based television shows such as COPS, Rescue 911 and others, Man Bites Dog follows the self-reflexive exploits of a documentary film crew as they attempt to shoot a sort of “day in the life” piece on a Brussels serial killer, Ben (Poelvoorde). A far cry from Michael Rooker's take on a similar sociopath in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, this easygoing maniac has the uptown charm of that worldly Republican fraternity Joe: he's handy with a wine list, is an erudite conversationalist, and tends to recite really awful poetry when he's in his cups. He's also a bit of a racist and the inventor of a mixed drink charmingly known as the “Dead Little Boy.” As the film crew acquaint themselves with the daily rituals of this monster (“I like to start off each month with a mailman,” he comments as he empties his gun into a hapless mail carrier), they begin to find themselves inexorably sucked into the maelstrom of off-handed violence -- when they announce that they have run out of funds for the project, their subject cheerfully consents to loan them money from the corpses that are piling up all over the place. Eventually -- and unsurprisingly -- they become more than witnesses and actually commence to aid Ben in his increasingly repugnant crimes. For all its This Is Spinal Tap in-jokes, Belvaux's film can be a difficult thing to watch (one scene in particular has managed to send record numbers of viewers scurrying from the theatre in revulsion, and although the Austin print of the film is unedited, the national distributor has removed the offending bit from most versions). Shot in black-and-white, Man Bites Dog has the feel of a genuine documentary, which makes it all the more grisly. The questions raised -- Where is the line between reality and fiction? How much is too much? and, of course, That's Entertainment? -- are dodgy enough in themselves but the film never resorts to preaching -- it doesn't have to. Shocking, audacious, compelling, and more than a little humorous, Man Bites Dog is a stunning original: Love it or hate it, you'll never forget it. Bang.