Man Bites Dog (1992)

Rating: B-

Dir: Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel & Benoit Poelvoorde
Star: Benoit Poelvoorde, Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzei, Jacqueline Poelvoorde Pappaert
a.k.a. C’est Arrive Pres De Chez Vous

Real life has done a disturbingly efficient job of catching up with what seemed, at the time, like a ludicrous concept. I mean, why would a camera crew ever spend weeks following around a totally unlikable jerk, hanging on their every dumb word? Now, we have hit shows like The Simple Life, with Paris Hilton and her slut-stupid friend playing at having to work for a living. Frankly, I’d rather watch Benoit kill old ladies for their savings, as he does here.

Probably because of this, it seems less of a caricature and feels not so extreme as at the time, though otherwise retains most of its bite. It does lose focus in the middle, with too much footage of Benoit getting drunk, when he starts to sound like Ozzy Osbourne’s pretentious nephew. However, the issues of media involvement, responsibility, and whether it’s possible simply to document events without affecting them (the makers would appear to agree with Heisenberg here, and say “No”) are even more pertinent now than a decade ago. Oddly, after this ferocious debut, Belvaux and Bonzel all but vanished, while nothing Poelvoorde has done, has gained a fraction of the acclaim or impact.

[13] This ultra-cheap, b&w Belgian film is based around a serial killer (co-director Poelvoorde), followed by a camera team for a 40 Minutes type documentary about his life and family (played by Poelvoorde’s real family, who didn’t know what the film was about!). At first, it’s a cheery exercise in black humour and sharp editing, with lots of shoulder-cam turning the murders into a psychopathic version of Treasure Hunt. But just as the killer is established as a near-likeable chap, the film crew gets drawn into complicity and the “hero” is gradually revealed as a real sicko, notably in one very nasty sequence that probably beats the “home video” scene in Henry, and is a near-cert for BBFC removal. [Wrong! Subtitles let film-makers get away with a lot in the James Furman era…] The movie isn’t easy to watch, and its origins as a short film are occasionally far too clear, but it raises all sorts of questions about the nature of violence, and as debuts go, it’s uncomfortably impressive and intelligent. B