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Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel, Benoit Poelvoorde
Benoit Poelvoorde, Jacqueline Poelvoorde-Pappaert, Nelly Pappaert, Hector Papaert, Jenny Drye, Malou Madou
Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel, Benoit Poelvoorde, Vincent Tavier

A Killer Comedy
Rated NC-17.

Widescreen 1.66:1/16x9
French Digital Mono

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 9/24/2002

• Video Interview with Filmmakers Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel, and Benoit Poelvoorde
• Student Film “No C4 For Daniel-Daniel”
• Trailer
• Booklet


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Man Bites Dog: Criterion (C'est Arrive Pres de Chez Vous, 1992)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

With a nod toward Network, 1992’s Man Bites Dog offers a satirical look at the relationship between violence and the media. A faux documentary, the flick presents the experiences of serial killer Ben (Benoit Poelvoorde). It launches quickly, as we see Ben strangle a woman on a train and dump her body in a pit.

However, Dog immediately becomes something unusual as the documentary crew interviews Ben. He muses about the different ways to weigh down various kinds of corpses; from women to the elderly to midgets and kids, we get a darkly humorous chat about these tricks of the trade. The movie then develops an alternating pattern. On one hand, we see many gruesome images of Ben at work, and he also provides his philosophies of crime and how he chooses his victims. (By the way, when I refer to the gruesome images, I mean it; Dog offers a very graphic piece of work at times.) On the other hand, we see him as a glib but devoted friend and son, and he demonstrates an affection for a mix of artistic topics. Ben also waxes philosophical about subjects like love as he clearly views himself as a murderous renaissance man.

Dog provides no real plot, though we do see an evolution as events take their toll. In a twist that seems like an homage toward the exploding drummers of This Is Spinal Tap, parts of the documentary crew get killed along the way. In addition, those filmmakers become more and more involved in Ben’s world, as they turn into his accomplices.

Therein lies the movie’s point, I suppose. Do news crews simply document the horrors they film, or do they also contribute to the violence? Dog seems to take the stance that there are no objective observers and that these crews play an active part in the action.

Of course, to do this, it goes to an extreme, but not much about Dog seems subtle. From Poelvoorde’s loose but broad portrayal of Ben to the extreme viewpoints the character occasionally spouts, Dog often lays it on thick, with varying rates of success. The movie launches out of the gates like gangbusters, as its extremely dark humor proves initially to seem wicked and incisive.

However, the film becomes somewhat tedious after a while, which might be part of its point. While a simple strangling might titillate viewers at first, Ben eventually needs to do something more extreme to keep their interest, so Dog depicts his attempts to keep things provocative. Since they have such a high stake in the success of the project, this causes the film crew to become more involved in the actions, a point that seems replicated in real life. For example, I think the trashy elements of shows like Jerry Springer began spontaneously, but they soon became orchestrated and artificial to the point where the program currently seems to consist totally of acted-out material. Thus the documenters aid in the crime as they try to keep their own jobs.

While I see the validity of that attempt, I still feel that Dog does run too long. After a while, it runs out of places to go, and it becomes slow and somewhat dull. Admittedly, the film couldn’t easily maintain its crackling early pace, but had it shaved a good half an hour off its running time, that would have made it more interesting.

Nonetheless, Man Bites Dog remains an intriguing piece of work. I wish I could say that it hasn’t become prophetic, but while we haven’t yet seen anything quite this extreme, it doesn’t look all that improbable anymore. While not a total success, Dog offers enough dark humor and biting satire to merit a look.

The DVD Grades: Picture C- / Audio C- / Bonus C-

Man Bites Dog appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Given the source material, this DVD probably looked about as good as I could expect.

Sharpness usually seemed fine. Due to the use of a documentary style, some shots lost focus, and a few soft scenes appeared for which I couldn’t explain the fuzziness. However, most of the movie looked appropriately distinct and accurate; it never achieved a high level of crispness, but that seemed inevitable. Jagged edges and moiré effects presented no concerns, and I couldn’t make out any examples of edge enhancement.

The black and white image usually presented an appropriately silvery look. At times the contrast seemed a bit off, and some shots appeared a bit too bright. However, I counted those as victims of the photographic style, and I generally found black levels to seem quite deep and rich. The format rendered some low-light sequences as rather opaque, but again, that seemed inevitable; the movie used available light, so some dark shots were bound to occur.

A mix of source flaws appeared. Grain provided the highest level of distractions, largely due to the shooting conditions and the film stock utilized. The movie often looked very grainy, which didn’t look very good but remained inevitable. I couldn’t explain away the various marks, specks, grit and thin vertical lines, however. None came as a surprise for this kind of project, but I still thought it seemed a little dirtier than I’d like. As an image, Man Bites Dog looked terrible, but as a transfer, the DVD generally seemed to accurately replicate the original material; with the possible exception of some print flaws, I couldn’t complain about the results.

I developed similar thoughts about the rough monaural audio heard during Man Bites Dog. Also recorded under tough conditions, it displayed a mix of flaws. Speech often seemed reasonably natural and distinct, but the lines also often presented a lot of edginess and sibilance. Since I don’t speak French, I can’t judge intelligibility, but the dialogue frequently cme across as rough. Effects usually seemed fairly clear and accurate, but distortion interfered at times, particularly alongside louder elements like gunfire. A little depth appeared throughout the mix, but the audio didn’t feature much bass response. The soundtrack included no score and almost no music appeared; when it showed up, it did so as source material so it fell into the “effects” category. In the end, the DVD of Man Bites Dog appeared to accurately reflect the original recordings, warts and all.

The Criterion DVD release of Man Bites Dog provides a small package of supplements. Making Cinema presents a short still gallery. Over its 19 screens, we see some production photos as well as a little explanatory text. This offers a short but mildly interesting look behind the scenes.

Next we get an Interview With the Filmmakers. Recorded in 1993, this eight-minute and 56-second piece includes remarks from filmmakers Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel, and Benoit Poelvoorde. Recorded in English, none of the three offer many interesting comments about the movie; their statements seem bland and lack insight. Perhaps the language difficulties affected this piece, but whatever the case, it appears fairly dull and doesn’t give us much useful material.

After that we find No C4 for Daniel-Daniel, an 11-minute and 57-second 1989 student film created by the three guys interviewed above. A fake trailer for a silly spy extravaganza, C4 stars Poelvoorde and appears non-anamorphic 2.35:1. It attempts to spoof the genre and big-time Hollywood flicks in general, but it falls flat and doesn’t go much of anywhere.

Finally, the DVD concludes with Happening In Your Neighborhood, the movie’s trailer. It lasts 101 seconds and appears anamorphic 1.66:1 with monaural audio. Inside the DVD’s booklet, we find an introductory statement from filmmaker Andre Bonzel and an essay from film critic Matt Zoller Seitz. Both offer some decent but unspectacular comments, though at least Bonzel’s brief note gives us a modicum of insight into the making of the film; virtually no other information of that sort appears elsewhere in this package.

A sporadically successful satire, Man Bites Dog seems a little too pretentious and forced to fully work. However, I appreciate its attempt to do something unusual, and much of the film seems provocative and compelling. The DVD replicates the flawed source material reasonably well, but it lacks any substantial extras. If you can stomach some gruesome footage and like this sort of pointed piece, Dog might merit a look.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 24
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