Given what's happened in Brussels recently, you wouldn't think God lived there. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the view that God is not omnibenevolent, but is in fact a chain-smoking, hard-drinking, abusive husband and father – which is the starting point of this new movie directed by Jaco Van Dormael. Not only does God spend his days in a dingy 3-bed flat writing the laws of Universal Annoyance on his computer but also – shock horror – He has a daughter. Her name is Ea. Ea is not too pleased, either with the way her Father mishandles the world or with her own miserable life. After telling everyone on earth, via SMS, how long they have to live, in the hope of freeing them from God's digitalised torment, she comes down to join them, finds six modern-day apostles to add to her brother's twelve, and records a Brand New Testament.
I don't want to tarnish the gems by talking about them, so what can I say that's useful? Well, how much you like this movie will probably depend on how much you're able or willing to suspend disbelief, and how much you're into the fantasy black comedy genre. You'll need to enter a world of human-gorilla action and talking fish skeletons, but, don't worry, if you're more of a traditionalist there's some straightforward stuff, like miracles. The storytelling style reminds one of Amelie or Pushing Daisies. A lot has been said about this movie potentially offending religious people; while it may do, I honestly don't think it is blasphemous. Irreverent, yes, and it does challenge our preconceptions about who, or what, God might be; but there is as much morality here as in the best sermon, only without the proselytising.
The movie is in French, with English subtitles, which did their best with wordplay and witty biblical references (I found the translation of 'emmerdement' as 'hassle' amusing, but couldn't say much about the rest). The cinematography is sympathetic, and the soundtrack is brilliant. One would expect heavy use of metaphor in this type of movie, and sure enough, metaphors abound, rich and charmingly arresting. To use a child's questioning mind both to propel the narrative and to create pauses for thought is clever, and Pili Groyne was superb in her role as 10-year-old Ea. Some dark touches stopped the movie from becoming saccharine, although on occasions the plot was manipulated slightly heavy-handedly.
The Brand New Testament encourages us to regard our world and, importantly, those who live in it, as having potential and possibility. People are the products of their circumstances, and goodness can be created through nurture and love. We all have finite time on this planet: the question is, how will we choose to spend it? Well, two hours watching this wouldn't be a bad start.