First things first, if you have not seen this film I implore you to do so. Man Bites Dog is best enjoyed when the viewer goes in with no expectations, no preconceived notions. Allow the film to shock and disarm you. Make you feel uncomfortable in ways you never knew before, for Man Bites Dog is a truly unsettling experience. It is a mockumentary the likes of which have not been seen before; while mockumentaries are usually of the comedic variety, Man Bites Dog focuses on a cold-blooded, calculated murderer with sociopolitical overtones. There is comedy here and there which makes everything that much more disturbing.
The film dives right in with Benoit (Benoit Poelvoorde) strangling a female passenger on a train, from the outset the filmmakers (of which are three – Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel and Benoit Poelvoorde) let the audience know this is not your standard film. Never before has there been a mockumentary that has felt so unbelievably authentic, let alone serial killing being the film’s subject. Benoit follows this (something akin to first) killing by instructing the audience the importance of properly ballasting a corpse – finding the perfect weight distribution between corpse and ballast. It all depends on the corpse whether it be an adult, midget or child, Benoit knows how to fully submerge all dead bodies regardless of size, age, race or creed.
Benoit isn’t your typical serial killer. Sure, he’s deranged, manipulative, narcissistic, intellectual, convincing, charismatic and cold-blooded, but he is also spontaneous. He seems to kill without discretion, employing no modus-operandi like most serial killers. There is no rhyme or reason to whom he kills or why; there is no ritual, just chaos. Disturbing…gruesome chaos, just like the world Benoit lives in.
A film like Man Bites Dog needs at least two aspects to be perfectly realized in order to work – a) an affable, charismatic lead and b) realistic cinematography in the vein of documentary style cinema-verite. Belvaux, Bonzel and Poelvoorde do an excellent job in both of these departments, most notably, Benoit Poelvoorde as Benoit the charismatic, talkative serial killer who seems to carry the entire film on his shoulders with relative ease. His ‘rubber’ features, much like Dominique Pinon, carrying the film upon elastic shoulders married with charisma and likeability and overall naturalistic qualities. This is your energetic acquaintance, your likeable co-worker, your charismatic neighbor, your ‘good-time’ high-school friend…a number of things rolled into one.
The cinematography is perfectly-suited for the subject matter. A perfectly realized and executed found-footage film, leaps and bounds above any found-footage film you’ve ever seen. Pre-dating indie-darling The Blair Witch Project by 7 years and whatever found-footage film that might be thrown up in argument. Subtle found-footage, the likes of which, that resists cramming its’ footage into your face, telling you that this is being recorded at the exact moment in time; this is only actualized in the denouement. This is disturbing. By which I mean, you see the documentary crew, slowly become involved in Benoit’s activities…his murderous activities. Helping him haul bodies into trunks, burying bodies in concrete, hunting possible victims and failing to help Benoit in an, seemly, easy execution. The outrage Benoit expresses towards the crew in this failed killing, is directed, in a sense towards the audience. The documentary crew slowly morphs into the viewer, becoming an indictment imposed on the audience.
The film asks the question – “You like violence?” “You are infatuated with serial killers?…How much?” “You can read about them, but can you see them in action?” “If you can read about them, for hours on end, you should be able to view them about their work” This is, essentially, everything you’ve been asking for over the years, your favorite, All-American serial killer upping the ante, little by little…with the help of the documentary crew (you). Let’s up the risks. Let’s see your audacity; your gall; “How much do you wish to see?”
Of course, there comes a time when these actions become competitive, this is America by-way of Belgium. The greatest condemnation of our unnatural inclination towards violence and degradation that has ever been captured on film. Everything that Haneke’s Funny Games wished it could be. So subtle, yet effective…undeniably so. Man Bites Dog gives Michael Haneke and all others a giant, massive middle finger from the past…all the way from 1992 to eternity. Belvaux, Bonzel and Poelvoorde created something that will, over time, garner the respect and praise it deserves. Maybe not now, but in time this will be considered a masterpiece…as it should. Again, the greatest condemnation against violence and our sickening attention for it.