Man Bites Dog & Eyes Without A Face

While I was partying at All Tomorrow’s Parties in New York this past weekend, I was able to catch a couple of movies. Criterion had a room where they were playing a wide variety of movies they’ve released over the years. Both of the ones I saw happened to be black and white French movies and very very weird.

The first one I saw was Man Bites Dog (aka It Happened In Your Neighborhood) and it was easily one of the most bizarre movies I’ve ever seen. It’s filmed as a documentary but it certainly doesn’t portray facts. And as much as I hate this term, there’s no denying it gets the point across: Man Bites Dog is a mockumentary. The premise is simple. A small film crew follows around an eccentric serial killer, BenoĆ®t. Most of the time, Ben talks at great lengths about everything under the sun: art, family, society, music, and in the opening scene, the best way to keep a dead body submerged under water. Very often, the crew films him as he murders and rapes various people and even though you know this isn’t real, it still brings to mind many questions. How can they possibly make an unbiased movie? Should they ever intervene to help the victims? If they don’t help, are they automatically accomplices? The lines are very blurred and the questions aren’t easily answered. The way the creators of Man Bites Dog make these questions easier to swallow is that the movie is a comedy. It’s easy to brush off such heavy topics when you’re laughing. “Of course this isn’t real. So why bother thinking about it?” Apparently, this was very controversial when it came out in 1992 and won the SACD Award at Cannes. I give this film a high recommendation.

Eyes Without A Face is a French horror/thriller that conjures terrifying images from the title alone and the DVD cover only helps to provoke those fears. It’s about a doctor who is experimenting with strange skin grafts and when his daughter has an awful accident that, um, removes her face, he attempts to put a similar looking woman’s face skin on his daughter’s. This movie has made it into many critics “Top Horror” lists and with good reason. It is by far one of the creepiest movies ever. It’s a horror film that would be ridiculously unsuccessful if it came out this year. It’s not the kind of movie that really scares you or makes you jump and scream. It’s actually really hard to describe. Instead of watching it with your hand over your eyes, it’s more like you stare at the screen wide eyed with your jaw hanging open. That’s the best I can do. Trust me, Eyes Without A Face is a true horror movie but likely not one that you’re used to. And even with the occasionally cheesy effects, this is still a very worthwhile movie.



Here’s one that had a lot of buzz last year, as is usually the case with a foreign film being nominated for a Best Animated Feature Film award in the Oscars. The last one to actually win in said category was Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in 2002 (well, technically it was Wallace & Gromit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, which won in 2005, but for some reason British movies don’t seem foreign to me). This film was different, however. You know there are always “kids movies” being made with adult themes and whatnot (check out this recent article on The Movie Blog about exactly that) but this is an honest-to-goodness animated movie for adults that people actually cared about.

Maybe you didn’t hear about Persepolis, though, and are wondering what makes it “for adults.” Well, Persepolis is based on a graphic novel written by Marjane Satrapi, who grew up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. The (autobiographical) story follows Marjane from childhood, through school in Austria, all the way into her adult life. Children are more than welcome to watch Persepolis (it’s rated PG-13) but what makes this a film geared towards adults is just that most children won’t care and/or understand the storyline and political themes. I don’t think a lot of kids would be interested in seeing how the revolution affects Marjane and her loved ones. Everything she knew as normal behavior before is no longer allowed. There are a few parts that children might be able to connect with, such as the things Marjane is forbidden form doing (holding a boy’s hand, listening to rock music, even from wearing sneakers) but for the most part, Persepolis is concerned with more adult things like revolution and martyrdom.

If the goal of Persepolis was to be mostly unbiased account of one girl’s experience, then it succeeded. Even though events were shown entirely through Marjane’s eyes, we’re still able to see that even “bad guys” aren’t all bad. No one is ever shown as a one-sided monster. At one point, when a few young guards are going to search the Satrapi family’s home for alcohol, Marjane’s grandmother tries to slip up ahead of everyone to throw away all of the booze, using the excuse that she has diabetes and she needs her medicine. One of the guards says to another, “Yeah, my Mom has that” and they let her pass through. Of course the guard has orders to confiscate any alcohol, but when his own family is brought to mind, he becomes sympathetic, as I think most people would. And by doing so, it’s not a matter of not doing his job, he’s just being human.

I very much enjoyed Persepolis, but I can’t, however, say that it was without fault. My major problem with it was it’s storyline and flow. There was hardly a scene that actually stood on it’s own. Everything seemed to be leading to something else. I understand that the story followed Marjane through her chaotic life while she was constantly being uprooted, but that didn’t make for an especially smooth or interesting movie. It wasn’t boring, by any means, but I kept waiting for something. So many things were happening but nothing ever solidified. It almost felt like the whole movie was a montage. Now, not having read the graphic novel, I can’t say whether or not this is accurate to the original story. Perhaps the story worked much better in it’s original book form and lost something in translation to film. But regardless of how the story flowed in the book, I still feel as though the film was lacking a proper flow and that bothered me.

Persepolis was definitely an enjoyable film. It’s nice to watch something different, and this certainly fits the bill. Also, it was a decent history lesson for me. I liked the animation style; it was very fitting of it’s source material. And even though it was pretty serious in theme (revolutions are never to be taken lightly), it was still able to keep you laughing, mostly through Marjane’s wonderful and somewhat naive observations on life. While I can’t say Persepolis is a movie for everybody, it’s definitely one that plenty of people can enjoy. As long as you don’t mind a black and white animated movie with subtitles.