Three young film makers follow the exploits of Benoit, a mass murderer and petty criminal, and document his philosophy of life and pride in the professionalism of his work. Benoit murders people, quite instrumentally, to obtain money. Or because they get in the way. He's not a 'serial' killer with a fixation about a victim type or a drive to assert himself. He's just a guy, going about his business. The murders, the crimes are shocking because they occur in such a natural setting - the killing is unheralded, unanticipated.
"I usually start the month with a postman!" Even killer's have their routines. Benoit explains his theories about robbery and murder, provides a masterclass in the disposal of bodies, expresses his concerns about the murder of children (it attracts too much media attention), and recounts his theories about why old people are better bets for robbery than the middle classes.
It is a film of quite shocking, deliberately disturbing violence, not least in the casual nature of the rape scene. Shot in naturalistic manner - black and white, hand held camera, exactly as if three young film makers are keeping a documentary diary of the crimes and lifestyle of a criminal. Made before the worst excesses of reality TV began to bite in Europe, it nevertheless anticipates the popular fascination with the mundane, and the ongoing appetite for murder and horror, and asks very real questions about the collaboration between the media and sensation.
The film crew, indeed, collaborate with Benoit and act as accessories - being shot at themselves, confronting another film crew following another criminal. The humour of the film is a pulsing vein. This is a film to be enjoyed as a satire. This is a film to be taken very, very seriously.
Benoit airs his views on women, race, housing, the elderly. He is the narrator. He moralises about life - he is a criminal, but his crimes follow a logic and adhere to his own brand of morality. He rants like a populist politician. The crew observe. The media, it seems, can give anyone a voice and make them seem important. But, of course, the media is only feeding the curiosity and appetites of an audience. Does the media pander to public tastes ... or does it create public taste?
The criminal makes no plans. He acts spontaneously. His is a life of instant gratification, a chaotic lifestyle of self-glorification made all the more marvellous by the attentions of a film crew. Benoit poses, one moment the urbane intellectual spouting poetry and philosophy, the next brutally attacking an unsuspecting victim. He's coarse, vulgar, intolerant, arrogant, a bully, utterly self-centred ... yet the film crew elevate him to the role of star. And we watch, transfixed, wondering where the tale will take us next.
A wonderful film, beautifully assembled, which poses question after question about the art (and morality) of film making. In fact, the only question it answers is the one about naming a classic of Belgian cinema. Award winning, influential, delightful, with a very funny spoof superhero trailer as one of the DVD extras, this is a highly recommended film.
For my money, this is no spoof: it is absurdist perhaps, but that is a different matter. Austin Powers is a spoof of James Bond films, the relations are easy to identify. How and of what is this a spoof? A small film-crew film a killer (and he is not really a "serial-killer" either) going about his grim work; he regards it as a job. Absurd perhaps. But don't expect a spoof or a black comedy, you'll probably be disappointed.
Like many great twentieth-century works of art it shows a great (if disturbed) sense of humour, but it is also a powerful meditation on the glamorisation and worship of violence, and the complicity of such acts in the crimes that we love to gape at. But no pat observations, and no simple conclusions. The end is ample proof of that. Unlike NBK it is oblique and serious, and all the more capable of being funny because of that.
And can we start a campaign to get it renamed? The nudge-nudge, wink-wink in-joke on new journalism's penchant for reporting the story that sells rather than the one that happens is pretty irrelevant. The French title is "C'est arrive pres de chez vous" i.e. "It happened near you(/your home)". Watch it, and think about both titles. The current English one is catchy but ill-fitting. Sure, anyone can bodge up an argument for keeping it, but Les Artistes Anonymes chose a very different title; did such good writers really miss the better trick? Shame about the occasional white on white sub-titles too, the DVD release was a wasted opportunity to fix that.
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