Also with Jean-Marc Chenut, Alain Oppezzi, Vincent Tavier.
PARIS–Reality programming meets “Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer” in “Man Bites Dog,” an offbeat, darkly hilarious portrait of a freelance hit man whose every move is recorded by a documentary film crew.
Well served by black & white verite-style lensing, mordant send-up of questionable news-gathering practices was written, produced and directed by its stars, a Franco-Belgian trio whose first feature provides clever patter with its splatter. Violent yet trenchant, potential sleeper should attract a cult following and will look just right on video.
Youthful hit man Ben (Benoit Poelvoorde, an appealing performer who could pass for a Belgian cousin to Robert Englund of “Nightmare on Elm Street” fame) is both a philosopher and a man of action. When he’s not killing people (more than two dozen graphic murders are committed in the course of the film), Ben plays chamber music and recites poetry. Urbane and opinionated, he is appalled by flaws in business conduct, rails against shoddy architecture, critiques painting and theater and stands by friends and family.
A font of both practical and esoteric knowledge, Ben scares an old woman into cardiac arrest in order to “save on bullets,” then strips the house of hidden cash. In one great bit, Ben slaughters a rival team of reporters simply because they’re using videotape instead of film stock.
Filmmakers cook up enough situations to yield a well-balanced report on an unbalanced character. With evolving irony, camera crew is not immune from danger or from the seductive lure of Ben’s lifestyle. At first reluctant even to dine with their immoral subject, crew graduates to joining in on the gang rape and disembowelment of a woman in her own home.
Not for the righteous or the squeamish, irreverent film follows though to its logical conclusion.
Apart from an amusingly tasteless segment in which the recipe for a mixed drink makes reference to a sensational French child murder case of the ’80s, French-lingo pic is accessible to hip audiences everywhere, provided subtitles accurately capture the jaunty tone of Ben’s running commentary. Pic will be most resonant in markets where reality programming has made major inroads.