Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Brand New Testament: God and Man in Brussels
suggest Americans are more religious than Europeans, but you can find
conclusive proof in the movies. When God appears in American films, we cast the
likes of George Burns and Morgan Freeman, but the Belgians opt for Benoît
Poelvoorde. We’re not being snarky here. Viewers are meant to be under-awed and
even contemptuous of him in Jaco Van Dormael’s The Brand New Testament (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
according to Van Dormael and Poelvoorde is neither infinite in his mercy or a
benignly disinterested watchmaker. He is a Belgian grump, who regularly devises
new laws to make mankind miserable, like dropped toast always lands with the
buttered-side down. He is a domineering sod with his wife and daughter Ea,
frequently becoming borderline abusive. Yes, there was once a prodigal son, but
nobody talks about JC anymore.
one particularly dramatic flare up, Ea strikes back at her father, texting
everyone on Earth the date of their death and then locking the mid-1990s vintage
PC on which her father does all his deity business, before running off the
earth in search of six apostles of her own. It turns out, this leaves her
father at a distinct disadvantage. While Ea and JC could perform light
miracles, their father was completely dependent on his computer. When he
follows Ea into terrestrial Brussels, he is just crank with a bad temper
claiming to be God.
is a reason for those six additional apostles, beyond the fact it allows Ea to
recruit six colorful characters, several of whom are played by some of
Francophone cinema’s top stars. That is indeed Catherine Deneuve, as the recently
spurned Martine, who finds the romance of her life with a gorilla. Frankly, it
is really no big deal, considering how often she played opposite Gérard
further French star power, there is also François Damiens (Delicacy, Les Cowboys) as his namesake assassin, whose line of work
becomes almost absurdly irrelevant when everyone knows their expiration date. Of
course, Poelvoorde hams it up shamelessly as the prickly creator, while Yolande
Moreau is painfully mousy as “the Goddess,” even when it is her time to shine.
broad strokes of BNT might sound like
cloyingly cutesy blasphemy, but it has a darkly cynical attitude nobody will
confuse with the Oh, God movies. Yet,
somehow it mostly manages to avoid direct critiques of any particular religion
or denomination. Basically, Van Dormael and co-screenwriter Thomaas Gunzig offer
up some warmed-over Gaia-friendly feminism, in between the gallows humor,
porn-related subplots, and sex with primates.
In fact, all the edgy, risqué, and potentially
offensive material is pretty funny. The film only really gets tiresome when it
wimps out and gets politically correct and sentimental. Highly episodic in its
structure, the film largely plays like a series of sequential comedy sketches
rather than a narrative to emotionally invest in, but at least it delivers the
laughs. Recommended for those not put off by the premise, The Brand New Testament opens this Friday (12/9) in New York, at
the IFC Center, just in time for the Christmas season.
Labels: Belgian Cinema, Catherine Deneuve