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  • Benjamin May

Man Bites Dog (1992) Review

Ben is a charming, witty go-getter fond of architecture, poetry and murder. A brutal serial killer, Ben is followed by a film crew who document his vicious spree of violence and barbarity. Initially they just shoot the proceedings, though as time goes by, the crew begin to take a more active hand, helping Ben torture and maim. Before long, the lines between subject and documenter are irredeemably obscured, with the crew fully in Ben's thrall. Their story escalates to a fever pitch of black comedy and savagery that will leave you thunderstruck in the audacious, wild and original 'Man Bites Dog.'

Written, produced, directed by and starring Benoît Poelvoorde, Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel, 'Man Bites Dog' is sleek, highly entertaining and not for the faint of heart. Shot on a shoestring budget, the film impresses on every level. The narrative is unpredictable, sinister and full of pitch-black humour and raucous dialogue. So funny the film is, it plays at times like a Christopher Guest led reimagining of 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,' and is just as strange, dark and comical as that sounds. It is a very clever, frantic and tongue-in-cheek mockumentary that contains some truly unforgettable, uncomfortable moments of violence.

'Man Bites Dog' opens with a frenzied, fiendish murder on a train and never lets up, containing some genuinely distressing sequences that will give one pause. The thesis the filmmakers are operating under seems to be that visual media- television and movies- corrupts and makes complicit its audience in whatever is occurring on screen. The crew following Ben succumb to his wiles and find themselves perverted by his depravity, as do we the viewing audience. We like Ben, despite his cruel and inhuman machinations, therefore are willing participants in his spree of turpitude. It's powerful cinema, with an interesting message at its core.

The bulk of the production was undertaken by Poelvoorde, Belvaux and Bonzel, and their efforts are impressive. A visually arresting watch, 'Man Bites Dog' is shot by Bonzel, and his cinematography is artful and of great clarity. Shot in black and white, the movie has a heady atmosphere that evokes film noir, and Bonzel's work with light and shadows produces some striking results. Not once do the budgetary constraints show through the visuals, and one will assuredly remember the images from 'Man Bites Dog' long after the credits have rolled.

The sound design is also impressive. For whatever reason, oftentimes student filmmakers do far more impactful and interesting work with sound than big studios and Hollywood heads. Think of 'Eraserhead' or 'Tetsuo: The Iron Man,' and how the cranking, wheezing worlds came alive through the sounds of the picture. 'Man Bites Dog' features similarly notable aural design and effects, which adds to the atmosphere and helps legitimize the world Ben traipses through on his intemperate journey. Additionally, the editing- done by Belvaux and Eric Dardill- is swift and intuitive, tying the whole film together nicely and establishing a steady pace, ever building in intensity towards the explosive finale.

'Man Bites Dog' stars Poelvoorde as Ben, serial killer and cultural commentator extraordinaire. His performance is fascinating, commanding and frighteningly hilarious. An arrogant, callous character, Ben is a startlingly realistic cinematic creation: a droll, murdering sociopath who loves the limelight, the sound of his own voice and dominating those around him. Poelvoorde's intense performance is incredible, he makes the character somehow likable and deplorable at the same time, whether waxing lyrical about architecture or discussing how best to drown a dwarf. The film justly kickstarted his career as an actor; as his is a supremely rare and versatile talent put on show to great effect in 'Man Bites Dog.' Though his supporting cast all perform admirably- Belvaux in particular- Poelvoorde towers above them; rendering further comment supererogatory.

'Man Bites Dog' is a brilliant, highly entertaining mockumentary that is original and affecting both. Featuring an unpredictable story, assured and noteworthy visuals and a spellbinding lead performance from Benoît Poelvoorde, the film is anything but ordinary. It is a highly charged, violent film that may not be for everyone, but for those who appreciate the dark and the abstract it's a must watch. OMD once released an album called 'Architecture & Morality'; with 'Man Bites Dog' Poelvoorde, Belvaux and Bonzel have created a fantastic film of architecture and immorality.


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