The Brand New Tes­ta­ment

THE BRAND NEW TES­TA­MENT, comedy/fan­tasy, not rated, in French with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

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

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