There is an old saying that you should never meet your heroes. They may disappoint you. The Belgian comedy from writer/director Jaco Van Dormael, The Brand New Testament, takes that one step further. Maybe you shouldn’t meet God. You may find out that He is just a grump in a dingy bathrobe making life difficult for just about everyone.
It turns out that God (Benoît Poelvoorde), a sloven and abusive hermit, lives somewhere in Brussels with his long-suffering wife (Yolande Moreau) and 10-year-old daughter, Ea (Pili Groyne). There was once a son—but you know how that story goes—and God was none too pleased by it. He doesn’t seem pleased by anything these days, deriving sick pleasure from tormenting humans with ridiculous laws about how toast always falls jam-side down and how the line you are waiting in will always move slower than the one next to you. We always expected such laws to exist, but who knew they were written in stone?
Ea decides to throw a monkey wrench into her Father’s plans, sneaks into His office, and sends out a mass text to everyone on Earth containing their death date. Little countdown clocks suddenly pop up on everyone’s phones. Some have 62 years left. Others have five months. A few only have seconds. The world treats this odd new information with skepticism, but after enough proof that these countdowns are accurate, the world stops functioning as it should. Why go to work, obey the rules and behave if you only have a few days left?
Thanks to an idea from her brother, JC, Ea decides to sneak into the world, assemble six additional apostles—bringing the grand total up to 18, the number of the goddess—and write a new testament in hopes of restarting the world.
Much like her brother, Ea doesn’t have much difficulty collecting believers—she can walk on water and turn one ham sandwich into two ham sandwiches after all—but it is who she recruits that continues The Brand New Testament’s sense of humor: a one-armed lonely woman; a birder who refuses to work; a sex addict with a lifelong fixation; a man obsessed with killing but has never pulled the trigger; a woman in an unhappy marriage who has a passionate affair with a circus gorilla; and a young boy who decides to live out his remaining days as a girl.
All of this might read as if The Brand New Testament is some sort of sick blasphemy. It’s not. Though the movie is absolutely bonkers and ridiculously silly, it has heart and just enough insight into the human condition to resonate—particularly in a society where foolish men hurtle down harmful vindications for no reason beyond their own pettiness.
The Brand New Testament isn’t simply a reworking of the Christ story with a young girl at the center—that would just yield similar results. Instead, Ea is a new attempt to set the world right again, to hit the restart button and come back with someone new at the helm.
The Brand New Testament / Le tout nouveau testament (2015)
Directed by Jaco Van Dormael
Written by Thomas Gunzig, Jaco Van Dormael
Produced by Iman Khatibzadeh, Daniel Marquet, Olivier Rausin, Jaco Van Dormael
Starring: Pili Groyne, Benoît Poelvoorde, Yolande Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, François Damiens, Laura Verlinden, David Murgia
Music Box Films, Not rated, Running time 114 minutes, Premiered May 17, 2015 at the Cannes Film Festival.
The above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 24, No. 20, “The gospel according to women.”
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