What if God really exists somewhere? What if he is merely a mean cranky guy with the absolute power on our world? And what if things can be changed for us? Belgian comedy film “The Brand New Testament” is cheerfully sweet and naughty with its subversive premise, and its many whimsical moments will tickle you with the barbed laughs inside them. Although the movie often becomes sappy in its more serious moments, it never loses its sense of irreverent black humor, and it keeps rolling its surreal satire until it eventually arrives at its preposterous ending for another good laugh.
Through his young daughter’s sardonic narration, we hear about how God (Benoît Poelvoorde) created the world and then have managed the world on his whim for many years. While living somewhere in Brussels with his family, God spends a lot of time in his private office full of countless document cabinets, and he always has a vicious fun with making human beings in his world miserable. He certainly delights in setting numerous different versions of Murphy’s Law through his old-fashioned but mighty desktop computer, and he definitely has a divine blast with thousands of big accidents and catastrophes happening around the world as he plans. In the other words, he is your average powerful prick who is not so different from that one in the Old Testament.
God is not so nice to his family either. His wife (Yolande Moreau) always looks downtrodden due to her tyrannical husband’s endless harassment, and she usually hides herself behind her domestic works and humble hobbies. His young daughter (Pili Groyne) also has to obey to her abusive father, but she has been considering getting out of her suffocating environment someday just like her absent brother. While she and her mother still miss J.C. after all those years, God does not regard his own son highly, because his son had a very different idea on the world and then went outside for…. you know.
On one day, God’s daughter finally decides that enough is enough after suffering another cruel abuse from her father, so she begins to rebel against her father while he is less watchful than usual. First, she deliberately causes the malfunction in his father’s computer, and then she also spreads the certain classified information on life and death all over the world. That surely causes a worldwide mental shock when people begin to realize that it is not a joke at all, and the movie has lots of fun with how people react to this absurd situation in different ways. In case of one guy, he keeps hurling himself into many different kinds of dangers, and how he manages to survive as determined by his fate becomes a running gag throughout the film.
In addition, God’s daughter decides to continue her brother’s grand work. She is going to get her six apostles to be added to her brother’s twelve apostles (how she comes to decide on that number of apostles is another hilarious touch in the film), so she comes out to Brussels through a secret portal hidden in her home, and then she comes across a middle-aged vagrant who reluctantly becomes her scribe despite his deficient writing skill.
As God’s daughter and her scribe meet her six apostles one by one, each of the life stories of these six people is calmly told to us through the quirky mix of sappy drama and absurd comedy. In case of a young woman with one disability hidden behind her attractive appearance, she gets a weird but tender surprise at her home, and she feels a little better than usual. While an office worker who has devoted most of his life to his job begins a long spiritual journey after his encounter with God’s daughter, a naughty middle-aged guy who has been frustratingly stuck with his lifelong sexual fixation finally finds his happiness through a hilarious twist of fate, and a detached insurance salesman who has had morbid fascination with death belatedly finds someone he really cares about with all his heart.
While the most outrageous moment in the film is from an old married woman who comes across a chance of unexpected romance (Catherine Deneuve, who is still graceful as usual, is commendable for playing her character straight without a wink even when she casually shares the space with her new love), the sweetest moment comes from a young sick boy who recently learns that his death is quite near. As spending some time with the boy, God’s daughter wants to help him as much as she can, and that leads to one big funny sequence where many people are waiting for their scheduled time of death on the beach.
The movie feels mellow and artificial at times, but the director/co-writer Jaco Van Dormael balances the plot well between sentimentality and satire, and the result is a lot better than his previous work “Mr. Nobody” (2009), whose superficial ideas on life and fate made my bullsh*t meter ring constantly during its long, tedious running time. Although “The Brand New Testament” is not entirely free from what annoyed me a lot in “Mr. Nobody”, it is more humorous, imaginative, and thought-provoking in comparison, and I especially enjoyed those very funny scenes where God directly faces his creations later in the story. I also liked the deadpan performances from the cast, and young actress Pili Groyne is engaging as a plucky heroine going against her father almighty.
Incidentally, I happened to watch the film with my mother and brother on Christmas, and that was another amusement for us and many other audiences in the screening room. I do not know how many of them have a religion, but, as far as I could see, we all laughed or chuckled together a lot during the screening, and we gladly accepted the finale which is blatantly contrived but is somehow logical in its surreal setting. After all, as an irreverent comedy about God, it is surely entitled to use that time-honored storytelling contrivance derived from God, isn’t it?