God Is a Sadistic Internet Troll in the Delightful French Satire The Brand New Testament

Director Jaco Van Dormael’s film provides a delightfully funny take on religion—and features the iconic Catherine Deneuve shacking up with a very unlikely partner.


God is a prick in The Brand New Testamenta balding, middle-aged bastard (Benot Poelvoorde) living in Brussels who spends his days wearing a dirty T-shirt, plaid bathrobe, and socks with sandals, and who lords over humanity by using an office computer that controls the universe. This filing cabinet-filled room is one of three in His average urban apartment, which He shares with His mute wife (Yolande Moreau) and His rebellious 10-year-old daughter Ea (Pili Groyne), the latter of whom speaks to her defiant brother JC (David Murgia) through a ceramic desktop figurine of him that sits on top of her dresser.

Poelvoordes God created man to ease His boredom, and toys with their lives like a nasty kid torments ants with a magnifying glassbe it staging religious wars or creating annoying holy laws that result in people always being stuck in the slowest grocery store check-out lane, or making it so that whenever jam-covered toast is dropped, it lands face-down. Arrogant, petty and cruel, Hes exactly the sort of divine creator whod saddle the world with Donald Trump.

Poelvoordes deity may be the initial center of attention in director Jaco Van Dormaels film, but he ultimately plays second fiddle to Ea (her name, perhaps, a combination of Eve and Adams initials?). Fed up with her domineering fathers heartlessness, Ea takes the advice of her brother and endeavors to escape her home (via her clothes dryer duct, since the apartment has no doors leading outside). She does this in order to accomplish something JC himself thinks will be awesome: namely, find six more apostles, who will tell their own stories in a Brand New Testament that will help reshape the world in an image friendlier than that of her rancid paterfamilias. However, before she can up the apostle count to 18 (the number of players needed for a game of baseball, her moms favorite sport), Ea first hacks her dads computer and sends out text messages to everyone on Earth that reveal the exact dates of their death. Gods master plan revealed to all, as it were.

Eas quest to locate her chosen disciples (whose holy ID cards shes pilfered from her fathers archives) is one of discovery and reinvention. Though devoid of her beloved siblings capacity for miraclesthe best she can do is move small objects with her mind, and magically clone ham sandwichesshe boasts an overwhelming curiosity and kindness, and its that compassion which drives her mission of mercy. Upon arriving on the rain-soaked streets of Belgiumand puking up a fish burger she dug out of a dumpsterEa enlists homeless Victor (Marco Lorenzini) to jot down the testimonies of those she visits, each of whom suffer from literal and spiritual loneliness. They include a one-armed beauty (Laura Verlinden), a killer (Franois Damiens), a single wannabe-adventurer (Didier De Neck), a sex maniac (Serge Larivire), a wife trapped in a loveless marriage (Catherine Deneuve), and a young boy being slowly, secretly poisoned by his mother (Romaine Gelin). Together, theyre a sextet of disaffection, and thus primed for Eas guidance to see the futureor what they have left of onein a new, more transformative light.

In recounting its fantastical talewhich, unlike most American films, is perfectly comfortable mixing the sexual with the sweetly sentimentalThe Brand New Testament embraces a whimsical aesthetic that will be recognizable to anyone familiar with 2001s Amlie, as the film operates as the sort of borderline-cloying work for which French auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet is famous. Dormaels fable is emblazoned with CG-heightened colors and a sugary uplifting score, rife with interconnecting storylines that speak to a grand unifying design, marked by an overarching belief in peoples inherent goodness and universal desire for togetherness, and chockablock with random flights of fancy. When one character says a homeless mans voice sounded like thirty guys cracking walnuts, and director Dormael briskly cuts away to a visual approximation of that description, one can just about imagine Jeunet calling his lawyer to discuss stylistic copyright infringement.

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