I am someone who adores dark comedy, and I can pretty much stomach nearly anything, as long as it is obviously not real or questionably fictional (looking at you, Cannibal Holocaust) – but even I found it incredibly difficult to watch Man Bites Dog (C’est arrivé près de chez vous), and I will be the first to admit that I first attempted to watch it about three years ago and found it extraordinarily difficult to watch, and I turned it off, not in disgust, but rather in fear. It was only now that I decided to return to the film, and I found myself equally as disturbed, but also morbidly fascinated with it. It is a grotesque, disturbing and utterly polarizing film, but it is also a masterpiece of dark comedy, and quite simply one of the most extraordinary films I have ever seen.
The mockumentary film sub-genre is something I adore. I have been a devotee of mockumentaries since seeing Best in Show when I was quite young. The mockumentaries of Christopher Guest, and the subsequent comedy television shows such as The Office, Parks & Recreation and Modern Family are all pinnacles of the mockumentary structure. However, Man Bites Dog could not be more different. It is a film that you honestly find yourself questioning whether or not it is truly real – there is nothing here to suggest that this film is even supposed to be real, but there is also nothing that claims that this film is complete fiction. If I hadn’t known about this film and rather had gone in completely blind, I would find myself questioning whether or not this film is fiction or reality, mainly because the directors (Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde) had a superb control over the mockumentary form, and managed to show the events of this film as if it were a real documentary – Man Bites Dog is superb in its meticulous attention to detail and beautifully constructed narrative that truly bends the limits of where fiction and cinema can go. As a mockumentary film, Man Bites Dog is certainly one of the best ever made.
Man Bites Dog has an incredibly simple story – Benoît (played by co-director and co-writer Benoît Poelvoorde) is a serial killer that stalks the streets of his city, and uses his incredible charm and fearless attitude to commit some truly grisly and gruesome murders, all the while being followed around by a camera crew (composed of co-directors Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel), who are making a documentary about Benoît. To call Benoît a complete psychopath is an understatement – a psychopath at least vaguely understands what they are doing is wrong – whereas Benoît is adamant that everyone has their hobbies, his is just killing innocent people in a variety of manners, just for the fun of it.
That is precisely what makes Man Bites Dog such a disturbing film – other films about murderers paint their subjects as people with a reason for doing what they do, whether it is to rid the world of inferior individuals, or to get revenge, there is something motivating them. Benoît does not seem to have any motivation for his myriad of killings, other than the fact that it entertains him. We watch as the camera crew slowly transition from shocked and innocent bystanders to involved and equally guilty participants in Benoît’s deranged and disgusting habits. The film does an unbelievable job at shocking you, and the directors clearly didn’t have any limits as to how far they would go to shock and disgust the audience, but in creating such an irresistibly charming character in Benoît, and to make his actions so disgusting, we develop a morbid fascination with the character.
I am warning everyone now – Man Bites Dog is one of the most shocking films ever made.
It is unbelievably grotesque and excessively violent – and it borders on being almost immoral at times. It has enough violence and shocking imagery to turn someone off cinema for life if they don’t know what they are getting into here. It will shock and disturb you – the violence in this film is unprecedented, and it is completely no-holds-barred when it comes to displaying the depravity and disgust of Benoît. The fact that this film is structured in a documentary format makes it even more disturbing – the audience doesn’t feel like people simply watching these characters, but rather serve as being passively involved in the deranged acts of Benoît and his friends. It almost makes one feel guilty for even watching this film – and as I said before, it is difficult to keep in mind that this film is fictional, because the film constantly makes us believe this is real.
But onto the positives of Man Bites Dog – it is remarkable how detailed and beautiful the documentary structure of this film is. Filmed in gritty black and white, and with an almost non-existent budget, the directors made sure to make Man Bites Dog as memorable of an experience as possible, and they went all-in to make it as shocking and deranged as one would expect. Poelvoorde is absolutely brilliant in the lead role, and he gives a performance that many can aspire to come close to – it is such a layered, complex and charismatic role, and we find ourselves rooting for Benoît, even though he commits some of the most disturbing acts ever put on film.
Man Bites Dog is a very disturbing film. It will leave you at a loss for words, and will shock you more than most films will. I really highly suggest only seeking this film out if you can take some of the most deranged and disturbing imagery you’ll ever see on film. I was completely shocked with this film, and I am sure that’s part of the appeal. However, if you can handle it, Man Bites Dog is a fantastic film, and it is a masterpiece of dark comedy, and it truly has to be seen to be believed.