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Belgium 1992
Directed by
Rémy Belvaux / André Bonzel / Benoît Poelvoorde
95 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Man Bites Dog

Although regularly referred to as a media satire Man Bites Dog is rather a mordantly black comedy in the tradition of Alexander Mackendriks’ The Ladykillers (1955). Well, “tradition” in the loose sense as there is a rather juvenilely graphic indulgence (seen especially at the film’s beginning when Ben played with Begnini-like enthusiasm by Benoît Poelvoorde, garrotes a woman on a train).

Taking the form of a documentary purporting to be following the affable Ben as he goes about randomly killing people, continuously reflecting on his self-appointed métier for the camera, intermittently breaking into poetry, visiting an aged prostitute, his girlfriend, and his mother and grandparents (Poelvoorde’s actual mother and grandparents who had no idea the kind of film in which they would appear0.

The filmis mordantly funny in an absurdist way particularly as the film crew (played by Poelvoorde’s felloe writer-directors, Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel) get more involved in helping Ben but despite its cleverness in this respect there is also something quite off about it with some scenes  – the garotting has already been mentioned but  there’s the point-blank executions, the suffocating of a child, not to mention the raping and disemboweling (if I saw correctly) of a fat woman  - which are simply too grotesque to count as humour (on the other hand a scene in which Ben accidentally shoots his host as his birthday party then tries to pretend that nothing has happened is true gallows humour).

With its radically provocative approach to violence (Tarantinos’s Reservoir Dogs, which was released the same year, is relatively tasteful in comparison) Man Bites Dog is the sort of film that is prime cult material and indeed it was a hit in its day. No-one would mistake it for a documentary but it emulates the style skillfully, and a media satire it is not but as a satire of screen violence, precisely because of its offensiveness, it has its merits. 




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