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Film / Man Bites Dog

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"If you kill a whale, you get Greenpeace and Jacques Cousteau on your back. But wipe out sardines and you get a canning subsidy."

A Belgian 1992 Black Comedy Mockumentary directed by and starring Benoît Poelvoorde, Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel, following a Serial Killer as he goes about his business. The original title is C'est arrivé près de chez vous, which literally translates to "It Happened Near Your Home".

The film had a shoe-string budget and therefore was made as cheaply as possible. Everything was filmed in black-and-white and the three directors are also the three main actors. Supporting characters are played by friends and family members, which only adds to the realism. Despite its financial limitations, it became a powerful, sometimes funny, often disturbing satire on the news media's obsession with real-life violence. The film also became a Cult Classic outside Belgium.

This film provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: During a shoot-out, Benoit kills the sound man by accident.
  • Affably Evil: Benoit is thoroughly charming and murderous, bordering on Ax-Crazy. He is very nice to the film crew following him, inviting them to restaurants and helping them finance the movie just after he murders random people.
  • Ass Shove: Near the end of the film, Ben realizes his enemies got a step ahead of him by killing his flautist girlfriend, Valerie, via shoving her instrument down there. The same thing happens to Ben's mother, with a broomstick.
  • Asshole Victim: Benoit and the film crew more than deserve their fates at the end.
  • Attention Whore: Benoit attempts to defy this in his rant about only picking on "small fry" because he dislikes too much attention, but his behaviour throughout the film reeks of a narcissistic need to be seen, hence why he takes such a shine to the crew for their willingness to give him a spotlight (at least, at first).
  • Ax-Crazy: Benoit is completely unpredictable. At his birthday party he's ecstatic about trying his presents... and shoots one of the attendees in the head without warning. He then continues enjoying the party as if nothing happened.
  • Black Comedy: Mostly in the first half of the film. Then it gets more grim as Benoit's Mask of Sanity begins to slip and the (in-universe) director starts getting personally invested.
  • Black Is Bigger in Bed: After he kills the black night watchman, Benoit decides to check if "that legend" is true. Apparently, it is.
  • Bloody Hilarious: Some of the crimes are hilarious specifically because of how violent they are.
  • Bowdlerization: Happened with one of the film's posters. The illustration showed Ben firing his gun at someone out of frame, with blood spatter and a set of false teeth flying through the frame. The original version (probably the better-known now, since it appears on the cover of the Criterion Collection edition), instead of an old person's dental plate, showed an infant's pacifier.
  • Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are: When looking for a little boy (since it's a potential witness), Benoît calls him (with "Gamin!" in French, meaning "kid") and tells him to come, and promises him he won't hurt him.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Benoit enjoys philosophizing about life, even though it's usually a lot of baloney that he just says to make himself look smarter than he really is.
  • Crapsack World: A documentary crew following a serial killer while he commits his crimes? What have we become?
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Benoît's girlfriend — who plays the flute — is killed by an Italian hitman. We don't get to see her body, but it's implied Benoît finds her nude on the bed with the flute shoved up her anus to the point of causing a rupture.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Possibly as a result of the low budget the directors/producers/actors were working with.
  • Do Wrong, Right: Benoit chides his cohorts during the gang-rape, criticizing them not on moral grounds, but on their technique.
  • Downer Ending: Someone ultimately decides to turn things around on Ben and starts murdering HIS family and loved ones. This leads Ben to decide he has to get out of town, but as he meets with the camera crew to say goodbye, he is gunned down from offscreen, likely by the same unknown revenge-killer, who also kills the rest of the camera crew, the final shot of the movie coming from the camera on the ground as the fleeing sound man is shot dead. Although considering what both Benoit and the crew are guilty of, it's hard to pity their fate at all.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Ben killed a bunch of Moroccans on a building site and hid their bodies in concrete foundations]... but at least [he] "turned them in the direction of Mecca".
  • Fan Disservice: Martine is an attractive woman and her husband is a handsome man, and seeing them naked would not be an unpleasant sight if they weren't being raped, murdered, and mutilated.
  • Feigning Intelligence: Benoit fashions himself as a refined, sophisticated and worldly professional, but it gradually becomes apparent that he's just a pretentious street thug keeping up the act to fuel his massive ego.
  • Film Noir: Parodied at first but gradually starts being played straight. The shadowy noir aesthetic becomes more intense as the film goes on, reflecting the darkening tone.
  • Found Footage Films: Implied by the ending, when the tape runs out after the cameraman is shot down.
  • French Jerk: Technically Benoit is a Belgian, but he is a Walloon (an inhabitant of the mostly french-speaking southern half of Belgium) who speaks French and is a major Jerkass.
  • Fright Deathtrap: Benoit and the filmmakers are interviewing an old lady in her living room when Benoit suddenly shoves his gun to her face and SCREAMS AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS to scare her into a fatal heart attack. Which saves him a bullet.
  • From Bad to Worse: Benoît's deeds get more reckless and psychopathic as the film marches on, with more people within his private life and vicinity getting murdered.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Ben denouncing violence as the bane of society.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: Benoit's attempts at poetry are kitschy and nonsensical, showing that his self-image as a Wicked Cultured professional hitman is a farce.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: The filmmakers show a morbid interest in filming a serial killer for their documentary.
  • Informed Ability: Deliberately done as a form of foreshadowing: Benoit mentions he used to be known for his ability to wiggle any part of his body. When he demonstrates using his ears, they hardly move.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Benoit kills a man purely accidentally during his birthday party. The rest of the people react in a deadpan manner, even though the faces of some of them were splattered by his blood.
  • Irony: Benoit and the film crew ultimately become victims of the same senseless violence they themselves perpetrated.
  • Kick the Dog: It happens a lot. Right down to the movie's title.
  • Leave the Camera Running: At all times the crew keeps filming, even when things get ugly...
  • Mad Artist: Benoit appears to view his criminal lifestyle as a form of art and claims that he gave up musical instruments in favour of murder instruments. The crew also count in a more subdued sense - while they are not as outwardly unhinged as Benoit, they are still complicit in his many crimes and seem completely determined to film him, even if crew members die in the process. They don't interfere with Benoit's work at first, but by the end, they actively participate in depraved acts of theft, murder and rape alongside him.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Only one notable aversion: When Benoit wants to check the dead night watchman's size the camera moves away after his zipper is unzipped so the viewer does not see anything. In all other cases, it's played straight.
  • Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal: Even when Benoit is jailed, his mother still doesn't believe he is a notorious criminal.
  • Mockumentary: The film is made in the style of a documentary about the everyday life of a serial killer.
  • Mood Whiplash: The film practically specialises in this, especially during the first half, regularly cutting between cosy, almost idyllic snapshots of Benoit's daily life and his brutal crimes.
  • Moral Myopia: Ben denounces violence as "the bane of society", while also being a vicious and sadistic spree killer who insists that he's different and that there's a reason for his violence. He's incredibly upset and enraged when his mother and girlfriend are murdered in the final act, seemingly unaware of the irony of his situation and how he's instilled this reaction in many other people over the course of his rampage.
  • Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!: After he makes his "If you kill a whale" speech, Benoit gets angry when André suggests that he's just scared of going after the big fish, and decides to rob a rich house just to show him.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Benoit uses this during the gang-rape sequence, first boasting that he will bring the victim to orgasm, and then interpreting the gagged woman's muffled vocalizations as moans of pleasure.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The movie cuts straight from Benoit and the film crew gang-raping Martine in front of her husband to them regaining consciousness, in various stages of undress, in the couple's blood-soaked wreck of an apartment with their mutilated bodies still in the room.
  • One-Hit KO: When he tries boxing, Benoit is beaten (and hospitalized) with one punch. "He hasn't been working out regularly" indeed.
  • Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: Despite every crime Benoit commits the film crew keeps coming back to him and are even invited to join in, which they eventually do without batting an eye.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Benoit regularly makes derogatory comments about blacks, Asians, homosexuals, Italians and Mediterranean peoples in general...
    "A black night watchman! What a dirty trick! So you can't see him! Who'd ever sink so low? Poor kid, born under the sun! I bet he grew up under the baobabs, and here he is on a work site."
    "Let's go sink this Mubutu. But I'm warning you, I won't touch him. AIDS, Remy... AIDS. Green monkeys."
    "At least he had no dogs, usually they have a pack of curs. I hate them. Blacks have a way with animals, you know. That's a fact. They know how to talk to them."
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Benoit doesn't like to kill children or rich people, and doesn't do kidnappings — not because he has some sort of standard, but because they bring too much attention (and, in the case of children, aren't "bankable").
  • Professional Killer: Benoit enjoys sharing his experience with the crew and the audience. It's implied that Benoit makes some of his income this way, although he prefers to get money by ransacking his victims' homes. Consequences are incurred when one of his victims turns out to be from a Mob family, who then start sending other Professional Killers after Ben.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: All of the music heard in the film is diegetic.
  • Reminiscing About Your Victims: Since it's a documentary, Benoit feels inclined to do so.
  • Running Gag: Members of the camera crew keep getting shot and accidentally killed.
  • Sanity Slippage: Rémy starts losing it after Patrick the sound guy dies, and it's all downhill from there.
  • Satire: The film is a partial satire of the media's obsession with violence and even being an accomplice in some crimes.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: On the posters, Benoît is shooting at the viewer.
  • Serial Killer: Benoit.
  • Shout-Out:
    • While eating mussels in a restaurant Benoît quotes from "Le Plat Pays" by Jacques Brel, but adds his own lyrics. This is inter-cut with a surreal scene where he is filmed walking naked in the dunes at a beach. Then he throws up in the restaurant.
    • While murdering a man in his bathroom, Benoît compares the way he kills him with a scene he saw in Le Vieux Fusil with Philippe Noiret.
    • Benoit looking over the footage of the failed murder that ultimately lands him in jail in a manner reminiscent of Mick Jagger in Gimme Shelter (1970).
  • Similar Squad: Benoit and the crew randomly encounter another film crew apparently tracking a different hitman, implying that this is a common occurrence in the film's universe. Benoit destroys their more expensive camera and kills them all seemingly because he can.
  • Stylistic Suck: The imprecise movements of the cameraman and sound crew were all written into the script, and the sound was further degraded in post with, among other things, additional camera noises.
  • Take That!:
    • The film's title is a reference to sensational reporting in the news industry. As a satire, the film ramps this up to eleven with the documentary crew collaborating with an active serial killer to make a profit off a disturbing documentary.
    • Given that the protagonists are filmmakers, the film also takes a cynical view of cinema in general, more specifically the prevalence of violence in cinema.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: A central point of the film, and a portion of Benoit's MO.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Many modern reviewers describe the film as a biting critique of Reality TV. At first, the crew members use their equipment to shoot unscripted footage of a serial killer's daily life, but this gets subverted over time as the filmmakers help Benoit carry out his crimes. In addition, when the film crew runs out of money, Benoit willingly agrees to fund their project, which calls into question the objectivity of the documentary. While the film seemingly deconstructs many aspects of reality television, the movie itself was released in 1992, years before reality television became popular.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Benoit's impulsive murder of a rival killer and his own film crew ultimately results in his downfall: he winds up being briefly sent to jail for his crimes, and the rival killer turns out to be personally related to an Italian mob family who are more than willing and capable of destroying Benoit's life in revenge.
  • Villain Protagonist: A serial killer is the protagonist of the film.
  • Vorpal Pillow: Ben and a couple of the crew members execute a young boy after killing his parents by smothering him with a pillow.
  • Wicked Cultured: Benoit has pretensions of this; he speaks knowledgeably on such subjects as architecture and classical music, and what he lacks in actual knowledge he makes up in enthusiasm.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Benoit doesn't like infanticide, but it's because there's no money to be made with them. When he has to kill one who witnessed his parents' murder, Benoit does it without hesitation, and mentions it being the second or third child he's killed in five years.
  • You Bastard!: At first, the filmmakers only record Benoit murdering people and act as an Audience Surrogate to his crimes. Over time, they realize that they will "never have enough footage" of Benoit and consequently become close friends with Benoit. Eventually, the filmmakers become depraved enough to rape and kill people just for the kicks.