Man Bites Dog (1992)
By: Devon B. on February 17, 2009  | 
DVD
Criterion Collection (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.66:1 (16:9 enhanced). French DD 1.0. 96 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel
Starring: Benoit Poelvoorde, Jacqueline Poelvoorde-Pappaert, Nelly Pappaert, Hector Papaert, Jenny Drye
Screenplay: Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel
Country: Belgium
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
It was always a bit tricky to find an uncut copy of C'est Arrivé Près de Chez Vous (retitled Man Bites Dog) where I lived. When the film was released on video in the States, two different cuts were put out, an NC-17 and an unrated one. Normally an "unrated" release would be the longest version, but I think what happened was the distributor cut two of the harshest scenes probably hoping for the censored version to make it into the "family" stores like Blockbuster. However, and here comes some wild speculation, this cut probably also got an NC-17 because it was at a time when the MPAA were very prudish. Presumably the distributor decided to just release the cut version, but had to return the NC-17 rating to be able to release the film as "unrated." Here's where things got sticky. Stores that normally would stock an uncut version assumed the unrated edition to be the full strength one, which meant that the NC-17 edition was really hard to find. So, when I first saw Man Bites Dog, it was the unrated edition, and while I liked the movie, it wasn't until I finally saw the uncut version that I understood how powerful it was. Unfortunately, a similarly neutered version has been released in Australia.

Often misunderstood, Man Bites Dog is not a film about violence, though it is brutal at times. It's a movie about the making of a movie. A documentary crew are following a man named Benoît around. He's a bit of a philosopher, pompous git, racist, hypocrite and would be poet all in one. He also happens to earn his living by bumping people off and stealing their cash. As the film progresses, Benoît takes more and more advantage of the film crew's presence, such as using them as a decoy to lure victims, until he eventually has them not just filming his exploits, but actively involved in them. Their morality and their objectivity quickly falter, and it doesn't help that their subject has become an all important financial backer. The directors of Man Bites Dog maintain that their point with the film was not about violence, and that the film could've been about Benoît being a salesman and had the same message. Naturally, that story might not have made their point as strongly, and what they're saying makes sense, but I don't know that I'd be discussing the movie if Benoît used the crew to sell an extra pair of runners.

As I said, two scenes were cut from the film in the US, and they were two of the most important. I'm going to detail a few specifics in this paragraph now to discuss these scenes and their overall impact on the film. I'm not sure if they're spoilers or not, because if I hadn't known of one's existence, I never would've been on the lookout for a longer cut than the one I saw. In the cut version, the film crew do become involved more and more in the crimes until Benoît is even referring to the unit as a team, but in the uncut version they get up to some nasty business. While at first the crew are doing things like shifting bodies after the killing or searching flats for the now deceased occupant's money, eventually Benoît has them doing the more direct stuff. The first cut bit is in a Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer inspired home invasion scene. A child witnesses Benoît's acts, and runs screaming from the house. Benoît has the crew help chase the child down, and has the director help him kill the child. The most disturbing scene is yet to come, and is the bit cut from Australian prints. The lot of them get drunk on Christmas (yep, just like another Belgian film The Ordeal, Man Bites Dog is a Christmas black comedy, though Man Bites Dog doesn't seem to take place exclusively at Christmas). After being booted from their local, they do a home invasion of another kind, and rape a woman while her partner is held at gunpoint. This is the pivotal moment where all of the crew are equally involved in committing the atrocity, and when the scene ends, the next image is the aftermath of the couple's brutal murders. It is unclear who has done what to the pair, but Benoît has not previously shown a penchant for mutilation, so it seems likely a member of the crew was involved in one of the deaths. This is very interesting, as it is one of the few occurrences where the crew were present and the camera hasn't captured what happened. We've already seen the crew literally kill some competition, so it must've been something very extreme going on to make them quit rolling.

End spoilers.

Even without these moments, the film is powerful, but if you've seen the Australian cut, you HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE. I know sometimes people make a big deal about censored scenes in movies, and when you finally see them, they ain't much, but that is not the case here. Man Bites Dog's cut scenes are vital to the film's message about the media, and are two of the most important showcasings of the line blurring between subject and the creators of the documentary. While Australians are slightly better off than the people who've seen the US unrated cut, the scene missing from domestic prints is a crucial part of the movie.

Man Bites Dog is a savage black comedy, and one of the best you're likely to see. The film draws inspiration from Cannibal Holocaust and Henry, but has left its own mark. The makers of The Blair Witch Project borrow liberally from Man Bites Dog and the entire film was essentially remade locally a few years back as The Magician. When Man Bites Dog is being funny, it is very funny, and Peter Jackson even recycled a running gag for King Kong.

Bizarrely, at the end of the first tape I saw, there was a warning for illiterate adults encouraging them to learn to read. I'm not sure many illiterates would sit all the way through a subtitled movie…

A sad coda to the film itself, co-writer/director Rémy Belvaux committed suicide in 2006. He and André Bonzel never directed or wrote again, despite showing massive potential in their first feature. Star and co-writer/director Benoît Poelvoorde has fortunately been far more prolific, though I've not seen any of his other work aside from the short on this DVD.
Video
Man Bites Dog is meant to be a low budget doco, so the print has spots, specks and grain, but these are meant to be there to some extent. Criterion were probably the best company to release this film, as they'd know better than to try to scrub the film completely clean. The film looks good, and the black and white photography is great in places. At other times the image is overbright, but this was probably intentional.
Audio
Original mono audio presented clearly and cleanly. There is background noise, like the microphone bumping things, but that's there on purpose. The gunfire distorts, and for some reason Ben's mom suffers from "S" hisses while talking, but again these "flaws" would've been left in intentionally.
Extra Features
The DVD comes with stills, some liner notes by André Bonzel and a critique by Matt Zoller Seitz, an interview, and a short film. The interview features the three principles, but was filmed in English. It's weird seeing them in colour. I enjoyed the interview, and there's an awesome, giant poster for the film in the background that they should've given me and then I'd be their best friend. The main extra is a short film by the trio called No C4 For Daniel-Daniel. The film is a faux trailer for an upcoming spy film, and it's fun to see Benoît killing people for good not evil.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Man Bites Dog gets more brutal and less funny as it goes along, sucking the viewer in with humour, but not leaving you much to laugh at in the final reels. By the time the laughter stops, you won't be able to turn it off. The film is a near perfect, unflinching satire on the media, and is a must see. I'm very happy with this DVD, but I would've loved a retrospective doco to be made, as the interview included is from about 15 years ago. For some reason the last few seconds of the film are different from previous releases (this is just about how the final image fades out), and I think I prefer the original fade, but it's Criterion so I'm sure there was a sound reason for the tweak. It may have even been a slight altering to the NC-17 version so they could release the DVD as unrated. I wouldn't dock the disc an Australia for just that altering, but this film is worthy of more extras, so I'm giving the disc a 4.

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