Friday, June 05, 2009

Man Bites Dog

Film: Man Bites Dog - aka - C'est arrivé près de chez vous (1992)
Dir: Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde
Rating: ** out of 5 stars

Man Bites Dog has a certain reputation. If the cover art of a man shooting a baby point-blank in the face wasn't indication enough, the movie is known for being fucked up. And while that scene on the cover never actually occurs, the film is indeed pretty disturbing. Needless to say, I was drawn to it for that reason. Unfortunately, most of the movie is boring and without substance. I like the general concept and how it is executed so realistically, but in the end, it all felt pointless.

The film is a fake documentary following a serial killer named Benoît (Ben, for short). He shows the film crew how he attacks random mailmen, kills and robs old ladies, and other horrific acts. It is obvious he enjoys his "work" - he jokes throughout and will go out for drinks after a murder. He takes pride in killing victims in unique ways and encourages the film crew to partake. Eventually, they do get very involved and start to really enjoy it, as well.

If you didn't know better, you might not know this documentary is fake because it is shot so realistically. Even the lead "actors" are the real directors and use their actual names in the film. The murder scenes are also pretty realistic. Man Bites Dog touches on a very interesting topic - society's fascination with voyeurism and violence. However, it never seemed to reach an actual point and instead comes across like cheap shock schlock.

One scene in particular is very disturbing, where a woman is raped (and ultimately killed) while her husband watches at gunpoint. For me, this scene felt completely unnecessary. Don't get me wrong, I don't have a weak stomach. One of my favorite films of all time is A Clockwork Orange, so I can handle violent rape scenes. The difference between that film and Man Bites Dog is the former had a moral pay-off. Kubrick made me watch these horrific scenes of violence, but it had a purpose and I felt like I got something in return emotionally. In this film, however, the rape is superfluous and does nothing for the story. So I just feel angry for having been made to watch it.

Another one of the film's biggest flaws is its lead subject - Ben. The story would have been more effective if he was a genuinely likable character. The filmmakers were clearly trying to make him charismatic so that the viewer would feel ethically conflicted for liking him. But in reality, Ben is a racist, vulgar, insulting, thieving, raping asshole. These traits makes the killing part less shocking and I never felt that moral ambiguity. Furthermore, his dickish behavior makes it less believable that the film crew would get so swept up in "the fun" of his antics.

This movie has often been called a black comedy, but it is only occasionally funny. I was largely bored by the slow pacing and redundant kill after kill after boring kill. It felt 60 minutes too long, and thus probably would've made for a decent short film. I can appreciate what the filmmakers were going for, but unfortunately they did not quite achieve it.


Johnny Vengeance said...

this is honestly one of my favorite films ever.