1992 | Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel & Benoît Poelvoorde
One of the fascinating things about Western culture is the celebrity of criminals, especially serial killers. Our captivation with people such as Charles Manson and John Wayne Gacy has desensitized us to the point where television shows such as Dexter are entirely dedicated to the glorification of serial killers, labelling these people as the heroes of the show, rather than the villains. Oliver Stone (and Quentin Tarantino) typified our media’s determination to celebrate criminals for the purposes of entertainment and profit in 1994’s Natural Born Killers. The opening shot of Man Bites Dog features a woman being grabbed in an alley and brutally murdered.
Honest and original are probably the two best words to describe this film, a Belgian mockumentary about a film crew following a violent thief and serial killer as he goes about his daily routine. At first they remain impartial observers, but rapidly find themselves getting more and more involved, to the point where they start lending Benoît (Benoît Poelvoorde) a hand. This writer has marked the film as a comedy, as it is, but it is an incredibly dark one.
The film was written, produced and directed by Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde, whom play the film’s co-editor, cinematographer and lead actor, respectively, all holding on to their first names as they gradually appear throughout the film. Shot on a shoestring budget (reportedly less than US$33,000), Adept use of natural lighting, a single shotgun mic and the occasional use of a portable spotlight deliberately highlight the film’s lack of visual polish and paint a dark picture of despair as we rapidly and shockingly cut between humour and brutality.
Benoît is incredibly witty, and insightful, as he provides the filmmakers with expert information on how to murder people and dispose of their bodies. He is incredibly mysogynistic, xenophobic and, at times, randomly nihilistic. He feels there should be laws against black people being “forced” to work as security night watchmen, but refuses to dispose of a black victim’s body, as he fears he and the crew will contract AIDS. Benoît (often addressed as ‘Ben’) is expressively candid and arrogant to the point of petulance, but the film crew gain loyalty, whether from fear or affection, and as they begin to not only assist Ben as accomplices, but begin to actively take part in the crimes.
We witness the crimes in increasingly grisly detail, usually fleeting glimpses of crime scenes and victims. The film’s most gruesome and odius scene sits somewhere between half-way and its end, as we are rapidly removed from a humorous (almost pleasant) drunken bar scene, to one of the most abhorrent crimes shown in such vivid detail on film.
This is a message disguised in grisly violence and morbid wit: Our fascination with crime should not be the celebration of the criminal. It should be the antipathy of the execrable and unforgiveable acts performed by these people. While Ben approaches everything with a sense of smug humour, no crime he commits, nor he himself, is ever glorified by anyone other than himself. Which, ultimately, is how such activity should be adjudged. We should be condemning acts like this, not celebrating them.