Looking Back: Man Bites Dog (Or It Happened in your Neighbourhood)

Man bites dog is a 1992 Belgian black comedy movie displayed as a mockumentary or fake documentary. Directed by Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, and his lead actor Benoît Poelvoorde, was awarded the same year of its release by the Belgian Film critics association (UCC), this mockumentary goes through the daily activities of a killer – played by Poelvoorde -, who doesn’t seem to be a fearsome and dark man, but a strangely and friendly man. It is worth stating that Man Bites Dog is the only movie directed by Rémy Belvaux – who sadly died on September of 2006 –, one of the very few works by André Bonzel, and that the only one who has kept acting in movies is Benoît Poelvoorde, who’s been in more than fifty roles including T.V shows and short-films.

Man Bites Dog is the kind of movie that its success comes more from the acting and their performance. The last names you will retain the moment you watch Marx’ brothers’ movies are Leo McCarey or Sam Wood, even though they had directed one or two Marx’s and other movies with some relevance too.  Fortunately, for Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati – and other similar actors-, credits for directing were ending up somewhere well known too. Symbolism and acting tone are the main attraction in this black comedy.  One might think, that sometimes this set up and way of doing the film can be an excuse to release boring, long, and political speeches, instead of using images which can get tricky once you get down to the work, but Man Bites Dog doesn’t go that way at all.

Like a representation of what independent films are, this movie takes an advantage on his documental esthetic and gives some very fluent and well-made scenes that provide clear points of view about the art work within film-making.  There are not only funny scenes, like when the killer gives his weapon to the crew members so they can shoot the T.V journalists, but there is also a poetical manifest of the rejection to media and its sensationalism.  

Two characters that play the role of crew members supposedly died in the middle of the movie production; actually, die in the real set in the middle of a gun shooting.  But Remy – the character not the director – keeps filming the “documentary”, because you film until you die. There is nothing that will stop them from shooting their movie; it is like a protest to the ones who surrender and give up dreams.

Nevertheless, Man Bites Dog has a considerable series of implausible moments if there is no consideration of the nihilistic features evidenced by the killer, like for instance, the assassination of a friend in the killer’s birthday; or the death of the crew members itself. However, the incoherently insensitive reactions of the characters contribute to the movie events in its dark, cruel and messed up universe, guiding the film into the bright side of the mean side of life.

Once again, Benoît Poelvoorde plays a nihilistic killer who takes his job very seriously following the techniques he has invented “very” professionally. He lives in a universe where nobody gives a single dime for anything but only for whom they care about. This perspective is definitely shown the moment the killer’s parents go visit him and start talking about the old man – who is sleeping next to them in the hospital’s stretcher -, and his solitude just in front of him. Not only the killer but also his parents are talking about the man with no kind of sensibility. However, the killer had worried, cried, and gone mad when he found his sister dead with her flute put in her ass.

The crew members inside the mockumentary play the excused role which justifies the sequence of events presented in the film. Besides, the only role that appears to be non-natural is the one played by Benoît Poelvoorde, who controls the staging and dynamics through the whole picture. The camera follows him, and the perfect pretext is that the film is a “documentary” about the life of a killer, which additionally, provides freedom to let the movie just be in some of its primitive technical aspects, like an ordinary documentary.      

Man Bites Dog points up modern society’s double standards about social care using the killer’s character – and the ones from the crew members – reactions to the assassinations in cold blood, gang raping, and infanticide. Its alternative title it happened in your Neighborhood may refer to some author’s cynical message to the ones who can hardly ever see or get involved in other people’s difficulties, wailings, or fatalities. Its black and white celluloid adds a feeling of desolation and misery, the repeated shots of the killer throwing the bodies for sinking and his reflections, gives to the movie a sense of condemnation with no way for redemption. In overall, Man Bites Dog is a skeptical dark perspective on human’s behavior in community with the plus of cinema poetic symbolism until it shoots a bullet in our head.

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