Saturday, 28 November 2009

[272] 18 Foreign Language Films You Really Should See

Den of Geek ran another of their irregular collaborative list articles this week, the brief was 'recommend a foreign film'. I wrestled with the idea for some time, and eventually settled on Man Bites Dog. A film I can watch and rewatch, and be affected by with equal power each time. Weirdly, despite the very casual nature of the whole article, many commenters have criticised the writers for not picking films that 'should' be there - such as Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai), or Park's Oldboy.

I got quite riled, really - these are recommendations, and what is the point of choosing a film that people have probably seen? The point of going for 'recommendations' over 'The ## Best Foreign Films' means you can be a bit more idiosyncratic, and enlightening. Striving for objectivity, or using personal taste as some benchmark for objective quality, is a much trickier business. And one I don't like at all. Tough, as we're getting towards the end of the year, and the end of the decade. So I'm going to have to suffer.

In the meantime, check out what I wrote on Man Bites Dog. It's A Good One; You Should See It.

Just one? Cripes. Where to start? This is almost carte blanche to go art-house, to strike a pose and declare 'This Is The Canon'. Something by Jean Renoir? Tarkovsky? How about À bout de souffle? La jetée? 8 1/2? I'll go against all inner urges to whip out the beret and condescend, and instead highlight - for your esteemed consideration - the 1992 Belgian flick Man Bites Dog.

Exhibited at the same Cannes Film Festival as Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs,
Man Bites Dog shares more than just a canine-derived title, offering a similarly comic look at violence and society, with tricks and quirks borrowed from low-budget indie filmmaking. Man Bites Dog is a black and white mockumentary, in which a group of shoe-string filmmakers follow around a hardened serial killer, Benoît (Benoît Poelvoorde). The film mixes up scenes of Ben's day-to-day criminal activities ('I usually start the month with a postman'), and more biographical sequences with his family and friends.

Poelvoorde's gives a powerhouse performance, carrying the film while creating a uniquely bizarre character. Benoît is a gentleman crook, a charismatic drinking buddy, and an effete pseudo-philosopher quick to wax lyrical on architecture and art.
He is also arrogant, bigoted and aggressively self-centered. He plays up to the camera, and before long, the film crew find themselves complicit in his cycle of murders and - most chillingly - a brutal rape. It is a deftly-handled shift from dark comedy to a wholly unsettling commentary on the media's two-way relationship with the horrors of society.

It's a startling piece of work, tinged with a sense of unfulfilled promise, as the three-headed directing-writing-acting team - Poelvoorde, Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel - have yet to match this early peak in their careers, which, with Belvaux's death in 2006, seems unlikely to ever happen. In
Man Bites Dog, however, they produced a film that was cut from the same cloth as Tarantino, offering a quotable, gripping, stylized crime drama, yet did so with an intelligent, polemical edge that their American counterpart has yet to attain.

Read the full article here.

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