The Brand New Testament takes God down several notches

A Comedy
Written by Thomas Gunzig & Jaco Van Dormael
Directed by Jaco Van Dormael

In this funny, silly, sacrilegious, and surprisingly touching comedy from Belgium, God proves to be a real asshole. He finds great joy is making innocent people suffer. He pronounces new rules for the universe, such as the one that requires dropped bread to always hit the floor jam-side down. He also loves to create plane crashes.

The Brand New Testament pictures the supreme being as a grouchy, homely chain smoker with a short temper and bad hygiene (Benoît Poelvoorde). He doesn’t appear to have any magical powers of his own, but with his computer (which looks vintage 1989) he can control the universe.

God lives in a dingy apartment with his terrified wife and their rebellious, goth-bedecked ten-year-old daughter. That daughter, named Ea and played by Pili Groyne, drives the film’s story.

With the advice of her dead older brother JC, Ea sneaks into her Dad’s office, gains access to his PC, tells everyone with a cellphone the day and time of their deaths, wrecks the computer, and then escapes from her Dad’s apartment to find six random people to become her apostles.

Why six? JC had 12–just right for a soccer team. Add another six, and they’ll have 18–enough for baseball (those numbers don’t sound right to me, either). I don’t know if the filmmakers knew it, but the number 18 signifies life in Judaism. Monetary gifts and donations are usually given in multiples of 18. Nothing is made of that in the movie, and I suspect it’s a fortunate coincidence.

Much of the movie follows Ea as she connects with her apostles. We learn something about each one of them, including how they reacted when they found out when they would die. And they all, through Ea, find a happiness that they didn’t know they could achieve. In most of these cases, that happiness comes with finding the right sex partner.

Unlike the rest of the movie, most of these apostle scenes don’t play for laughs, but for sweetness–even though many of these apostles start out anything but sweet. Yet laughs do get in. The sight of Catherine Deneuve deeply in love with a gorilla has to be cinema’s funniest bestiality scene since Gene Wilder fell for a sheep in Woody Allen’s Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sex…

For all its blasphemous humor, The Brand New Testament is basically optimistic and spiritual. God may be a dick, but his children can find the best in anyone and bring it out.

Anyone, that is, except for their jerk of a Father. As Ae walks the streets searching for and redeeming souls, God also walks the streets, searching for the wayward daughter he wants to punish. Used to getting everything his way, He finds Himself friendless, powerless, and with no skills except the ability to make everyone He meets hate Him. He actually brings a very decent and kindly Catholic priest to the point of punching Him in the face. These scenes of a helpless God are among the film’s funniest.

If this was a high-profile English-language film, the religious right would be calling for a ban. Atheists will love it. So will religious people blessed with an open mind and a good sense of humor.