Remy Belvaux

Co-director of 'Man Bites Dog'

Thursday 22 September 2011 05:42

Rémy Belvaux, actor, producer and director: born Namur, Belgium 10 November 1966; died Orry-la-Ville, France 4 September 2006.

Rémy Belvaux, the Belgian actor-writer-producer- director, never made a follow-up to his 1992 début film. But since that first feature was Man Bites Dog, a black comedy that became an international succès de scandale, his notoriety was guaranteed. For all the film's brutality, it was clearly directed by a prankster who delighted in wrong- footing the audience. It was in the same mischievous spirit that Belvaux hurled a custard pie at Microsoft's Bill Gates in Brussels in 1998. He was fined after being convicted of "mild violence".

There was nothing mild, though, about Man Bites Dog. Belvaux came up with the idea of making a faux- documentary, or "mockumentary", in which a camera crew follows a hit man as he goes about his daily business. He wrote the screenplay with André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde and Vincent Tavier; all except the last had collaborated previously on a 13-minute short, Pas de C4 pour Daniel Daniel ("No C4 for Daniel-Daniel"), in 1987.

Part of the fun of Man Bites Dog - released in France and Belgium as C'est arrivé près de chez vous ("It Happened in Your Neighbourhood") - lay in its blurring of boundaries. It looked like a documentary, but wasn't. It began as a comedy, with the murders (of passers-by, postmen and pensioners) played for sick laughs, but became increasingly vicious until the laughter caught in the viewer's throat. By the time the charismatic killer was actively enlisting the help of the documentary makers, who kept the camera rolling as he raped and murdered a pregnant woman, it wasn't so funny anymore.

The casting of the film-makers themselves in the main parts - with Poelvoorde as the assassin, and each of his co-writers playing the crew members - helped make this low-budget black-and-white picture affordable, but also contributed to the razing of boundaries between definitions of art and life. Man Bites Dog played at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992, where it was awarded the SACD award for Best Feature in the Critics' Week sidebar. It went on to win prizes at the Toronto Film Festival, and from the French Syndicate of Film Critics, and was a box-office success in its home country, where it out-grossed Batman Returns.

But it generated controversy wherever it was shown. The director of the Tokyo Film Festival was fired for booking the film, which was then banned. It was screened in heavily edited versions in the US and Australia. In France, the advertising standards authorities demanded that a poster showing a blood-splattered dummy be altered to show blood-splattered dentures instead.

It is likely that the film would have attracted attention whenever it was released, but it had the good fortune to hit cinema screens just as a new furore about movie violence was erupting. This had been prompted by Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, with its infamous torture scene, and Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant. Man Bites Dog shared common ground, too, with the work of the emerging Austrian film-maker Michael Haneke, whose 1992 film Benny's Video also examined the extent to which society is inured to, and complicit in, images of violence.

While Poelvoorde went on to become a major star after Man Bites Dog, specialising in comedies such as Les Convoyeurs attendant ("The Carriers are Waiting", 1999), Belvaux effectively retreated from cinema, with the exception of the occasional low-key acting job. His brother Lucas also moved into directing, writing and acting, performing all three duties on the ambitious and acclaimed La Trilogie films in 2002, but Rémy Belvaux chose to work for the French advertising agency Quad Productions. His commercials for the agency won him a number of awards.

His family said in a statement this week: "He leaves us one masterpiece and tons of regrets."

Ryan Gilbey

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