The Brand New Testament
THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT, comedy/fantasy, not rated, in French with subtitles, The Screen, 3 chiles
God is not dead. Although sometimes He must wish He were. In Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael’s hilariously impious vision, God lives in a large rambling flat in a Brussels high-rise, where He runs the world from a computer in an enormous locked room filled with floor-to-ceiling file drawers. He’s an illtempered slob who spends the day in His bathrobe, emerging from His office for meals at which He terrorizes His wife and daughter (His son, JC, has gotten away, thank God).
God created Brussels first. He tried populating it with animals, but kept making mistakes — like the giraffe. Then, bored and wanting a little diversion, He created humanity — “so He could watch them while they struggled,” we learn from His daughter, Ea (Pili Groyne), the heroine who narrates the film. (A little digging reveals that Ea was an ancient deity of Babylonian mythology, associated with, among other things, mischief.) His wife (a wonderful Yolande Moreau) is a sweet-tempered slattern who spends her days cleaning the apartment and watching sports on TV.
God (Benoît Poelvoorde) has a sadistic sense of humor. When He’s not causing plague, pestilence, and disaster, He amuses Himself by coming up with endless Laws of Annoyance, like “toast must always fall jelly-side down,” or, at the supermarket or post office, “the other line always moves faster.”
His big hold over us is knowing the dates of our deaths. So when Ea finally rebels against her father’s tyranny, she breaks into His office and triggers a computer program that sends a text message to everyone on Earth, telling them how long they have left to live (dubbed “DeathLeaks” by the news media). The result of this is to pull the plug on wars, and to inspire people to quit their jobs or even to test the system by jumping off tall buildings. Then, acting on a tip from her brother JC (David Murgia), who appears to her as a talking ceramic statuette, Ea makes her escape via a washing machine into the real world of Brussels, and starts rounding up six apostles (added to JC’s 12, they’ll make enough for two baseball teams). God follows to track her down and try to undo the damage.
The bulk of the story from here involves the pursuit, and the stories of Ea’s recruited apostles (one of whom is the ageless Catherine Deneuve, the only big-name star in the picture). Things do not go particularly well for God out in the streets of Brussels.
Van Dormael’s humor is cheeky and irreverent, and he piles on the gags with the abandon of a Creator with a new universe to play with. Most of them are funny. Sketch humor is hard to sustain over a feature’s length, but like the old Monty Python movies, he always manages to pick things up again after a lull. Underneath it all is a darkly comic philosophical point of view. — Jonathan Richards
God’s got a sick sense of humor: Benoît Poelvoorde