THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT
Music Box Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: Jaco Van Dormael
Written by: Jaco Van Dormael, Thomas Gunzig
Cast: Pili Groyne, Benoît Poelvoorde, Yolande Moreau, Catherine Deneuve
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 11/21/16
Opens: December 9, 2016
Donald Trump called Brussels “a hell-hole,” so how could God possibly reside there? Easy. In the creative minds of director and co-writer Jaco Van Dormael and of co-scripter Thomas Gunzig, God may well reside in such a place as he is not a nice fella, but a jerk. He is so bored (can’t blame him after having lived longer than today’s Okinawans) he dreams up ways to annoy humankind. He taps out laws on his computer such as “the bread always falls on the side with the jam” and sets up a plane crash set to kill scores of people on the beach. He also does nicer things like conjuring giraffes to walk down the Brussels streets and a tiger who watches static on an old TV. God is played by Benoît Poelvoorde, but before going any further, wouldn’t this sort of surreal satire be considered sacrilegious and unwatchable by religious Americans? I would have thought so, but after noting that 80% of Evangelicals recently voted for a presidential candidate that thinks John McCain is a coward, that a Mexican-American judge cannot be trusted, that undocumented Hispanics should be deported by the vanload leaving their born-in-America children orphans, that torture should be revived and that a prominent TV journalist has blood “coming from wherever,” this film should be considered practically Dr. Seuss.
The heroes of the movie, the ones who can save humankind, are both women. Ea (Pili Groyne—who is Marion Cotillard’s daughter) and God’s wife (Yolande Moreau), both rebel in their own ways. God’s wife, who is repressed by her husband and spends the days in embroidery and a baseball card collection will come out of her shell near the conclusion. Ea, who hates her father, plans to get back at him in her own passive-aggressive ways. She knows that her brother, Jesus Christ (David Murgia) limited his disciples to 12, so Ea seeks to increase the number to 18, which is the number on two baseball teams, thereby favoring her mother. As she chooses these disciples, she has a local bum write a Brand New Testament as she dictates. Best of all, she emails everyone on earth with his or her date of death, thereby undercutting God, who left this a mystery and thereby compels people to lead carefully repressed lives.
Yet some people choose to make no changes to the ways they live. Exceptions include a young guy who lucks out with a high number, thereby taking risks like jumping out of planes without a parachute, since he cannot die for decades no matter what he does. Ea meanders around, succeeding to add six disciples. Each time, a character is added to a painting of The Last Supper on one of God’s walls, each time inspected with curiosity by God’s wife. The fizziest comic touch finds Martine (Catherine Deneuve) pairing off with a gorilla and seen in a post-coital embrace (this after paying a stud to service her in a send-up of her role as hooker Séverine Serizy in “Belle du Jour.”)
By the time you hear of the unorthodox couplings of the other disciples, you will not think anything unusual if a fish skeleton sings “La Mer” while seeking a return to water. Nor might you consider a breach of logic if Ea walks on water but God sinks like a bag of cement. You may be hoping that the writers would push further in satirizing the human and celestial condition, but the movie was made before the recent presidential campaign. A sequel perhaps?
Unrated. 116 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B