Found Footage 101: ‘Man Bites Dog’ (Belgium, 1993)

❉ Found Footage 101 continues with ‘Man Bites Dog’, a hard-hitting satire about the role of the media and violence.

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Plot Teaser

A camera-crew follow a Belgian serial killer as he kills people.  Lots of people.

You’ll Like This If You Like…

Early Tarantino; the ‘Head Cases’ series; pitch-black comedy.

Spoiler-Free Review

A hard-hitting satire about the role of the media and violence, this is a very hard film to like, but an easy film to admire.  It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it’s compelling viewing.

 

SPOILERS BELOW!

Location

An unnamed city, presumably in Belgium.

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Enemy

Ben, a particularly efficient serial killer.

Why Are You Still Filming?

As the camera crew become increasingly involved in Ben’s actions, eventually helping him murder and rape, the question becomes increasingly topical.

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Review and Analysis

Despite the graphic violence on display from the opening minutes (the film starts with Ben violently strangling a woman on a train) it soon becomes clear that the film is set in a world of heightened reality – this isn’t ‘real’.  There are barely any police present in the film, and Ben must surely count as the world’s most successful serial killer: he dispatches an unbelievable number of victims throughout and at once crucial point the crew come across another camera crew filming a different serial killer.  This is a film more about films than it is about a serial killer, and it’s also about the audience’s relationship with cinematic violence: we are the camera crew, and although we initially begin by watching Ben’s actions, the more time we spend with him the more complicit we are in his activities, ultimately joining in.  In between the bursts of manic violence Ben pontificates to the camera on anything that crosses his mind.  He’s a charming man, likeable even, although much of what he says is pretentious nonsense.  What he says is also funny in the extreme, sometimes intentionally, other times completely unintentionally (we spend a lot of time laughing at his nonsense), but fascinating throughout.

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It’s telling that the British censors (notorious in their cutting of gratuitous violence) had no problem with ‘Man Bites Dog’, understanding what the film had to say.  Other countries were more wary and the film ran in to problems.  Perhaps it was less the violence than the viewer’s involvement that caused these worries: this was the first found footage film to catch the attention of an international audience, and the nature of found footage is such that we are more intimately involved with the action than we would be in a more traditionally-shot film.

As Ben and the camera crew are gunned down by an unidentified killer we are left to wonder whose film we are now watching – Ben’s, the camera crew’s or our own.  It’s the perfect ending for such an engaging and provocative film.

Availability

Freely available on DVD around the world.


❉ Next week in Found Footage 101: ‘Without Warning’ (USA, 1994).

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