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The Criterion Collection presents
Man Bites Dog (1992)

"I'll go, because I am cinema!"
- Ben (Benoit Poelvoorde)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: October 01, 2002

Stars: Benoit Poelvoorde, André Bonzel, Rémy Belvaux
Other Stars: Jenny Drye, Jacqueline Poelvoorde Pappaert, Nelly Pappaert
Director: Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoit Poelvoorde

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, mayhem, and just lots of stuff that's generally pretty disturbing)
Run Time: 01h:36m:15s
Release Date: September 24, 2002
UPC: 037429172223
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-B-B B-

DVD Review

All right, let's get the caveats out of the way first: this movie is vulgar, extremely violent, and in poor taste; much of it is deeply disturbing, and some of its images are sure to make even the most die-hard horror movie fan a bit queasy. It demonstrates a reckless disregard for human life, and seems frequently to revel in the sheer extremism of its bad taste. It is not for the faint of heart, or for those with weak stomachs.

Having said that, it may tell you more than you care to know about this reviewer when I say that I think this is a great movie. It's hilarious and smart, it's knowing about the longstanding debate about the role of filmmakers, and it demonstrates a deft touch with the material that's lacking in something lumbering and obvious like Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, which covers some of the same territory.

Man Bites Dog is kind of an unholy union between The Silence of the Lambs and This Is Spinal Tap: a documentary film crew follows around their subject, who just happens to be a serial killer, named Benoit. (He's played brilliantly by Benoit Poelvoorde, one of the trio who directed the film; the other two directors are on camera, as the principal members of the documentary crew.) Benoit recklessly whacks people seemingly at random—he likes to start each month by offing a postman, gathering up the pension checks in his victim's mail sack, and then tracking down and taking care of all the old folks expecting today's delivery. Of course Benoit is a monster, but he's also a self-styled aesthete—he's happy to garrote someone at random on a train, for sport, and think nothing of it, but he saves his true outrage for the poorly designed and shoddily constructed low-income housing in which he finds many of his victims.

There's a certain amount of relish in the depiction of Benoit's many crimes, but as one of the directors says in the supplemental material, "It's not a film about violence. It's a film about filmmaking." For as Benoit's Grand Guignol continues, the issue becomes: what's his film crew going to do about it? They start small, by using the zoom lens on the camera to scope out Benoit's next victim; soon they're helping Ben dispose of the bodies, and after spending some time dodging the crossfire, they get caught up in the mania. In what's probably the most disturbing scene, the documentarians join with Benoit in the gang rape and murder of a woman as her husband looks on; then they kill him, too.

If you can look past the violence—and I'm sure that many cannot—this movie is sort of a wiseass film student's take on the debate about the nature of documentary, dating back at least to Nanook of the North. In that landmark 1922 documentary, the subject calls to the filmmaker, Robert J. Flaherty, for help on the hunt, but Flaherty stays with his camera. Here, it's not gathering enough seal meat to see the subject through the harsh winter; it's things like shining the camera's spotlight into the woods, so that Ben can find the little boy who has inconveniently stumbled upon the murders of his parents in progress, thus allowing Ben to wipe out the entire family.

It's dangerous to know Ben and be near him, of course, and his friends as well as the film crew (whom he is financing with the booty from his kills) find out during the course of the picture. The narrative is serviceable enough, and there are many deeply hilarious moments, my favorite of which is when Ben and the boys stumble onto another serial killer, also with his own film crew. (Ben's guys shoot on film, and the others on video, so Ben lends us his opinion about digital filmmaking by taking care of the other killer, his filmmakers, and their equipment.) This movie was made ten years ago now, and retains all of its shocking power; the only disappointment is that the creative team behind Man Bites Dog hasn't produced anything else in the intervening decade.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The movie was made on the cheap, and it shows—some of the grain and shaky camerawork are no doubt for effect, but there's no shortage of scratches and debris on the print. Still, Criterion deserves credit for making the movie look as good as it does, with respectably saturated blacks and a serviceable gray scale.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchno


Audio Transfer Review: A good amount of crackle shows up on the audio track; as with the interference with the picture, some of that is due to aesthetic choices, but not all of it. But the dialogue is all clear, and the ambient noise level and hissing are surely no worse than the sort of vérité documentaries this effort is trying to emulate.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. No C-4 for Daniel-Daniel, a short film by the same filmmakers
  2. photo gallery
  3. insert booklet with essays by André Bonzel and Matt Zoller Seitz
Extras Review: The featurette (08m:57s) is a 1993 interview with the three filmmakers, conducted in English, in which they discuss the making of the movie—the idea was born as they attended film school in Belgium—and its international reception, especially at the Cannes Film Festival. No C-4 for Daniel-Daniel (11m:57s), a 1989 student film of theirs, is a fake trailer for a nonexistent action-adventure movie, starring Poelvoorde as a "space buccaneer." Some of it is funny, but it does go on a bit; and, like the feature, it's not short on offensive material, this time featuring an actor in blackface. For reasons known to the filmmakers alone, this short is dedicated to Marguerite Duras.

The stills gallery offers fifteen photographs, all from the set but for one, from Cannes; the trailer offers a translation of the French title, C'est arrivé près de chez vous, as It Happened In Your Neighborhood. And the disc itself is delightfully made up so as to appear spattered with blood. Salut!

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

If you were looking for the antithesis of family fare, this might be it, but if you can stomach it, Man Bites Dog is a sick, funny and dangerously smart movie. Where have you gone, Benoit Poelvoorde? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

 


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