God exists – he lives in Brussels.
This bold proclamation is the starting point for a comedic fantasy from Belgium, France and Luxemburg, in which God is portrayed as a mean-spirited bully who lives in a drab apartment with his wife and young daughter, the other member of the family having left years ago, only to go and spout a load of hippy nonsense about love and get himself nailed to a cross...
God spends his days chain smoking in his dressing gown, either locked away in a room of filing cabinets which stretch to infinity, screaming at his computer and creating new laws of universal annoyance (when you get in the bath, the phone will ring or bread and jam will always fall jam side down – that sort of thing), or making life miserable for his placid wife and rebellious daughter, a girl who has never been allowed outside of the family home.
But when Jesus tells his sister that there's a way out through the washing machine, Ea crashes God's computer, sending out texts to everyone with the dates of their death, and heads off into the outside world to find six apostles of her own, write a New Testament and hopefully change the way the world and humanity is heading. Meanwhile, God sets out to bring her back leaving Mum, a goddess herself, alone to spring clean...
Yes, that's right, a washing machine is the gateway to heaven, if heaven is where God lives. And that's not the only bizarre notion in a film, which strains for, and sometimes achieves, a sense of whimsy. Along the way we see God getting beaten up by a gang of thugs for eating out of a bin, a woman who seems to have had no kind of happiness in her life since she lost her arm as a child (some disabled people may find that notion a little cringeworthy) falling in love with a man who tried to shoot her, Catherine Deneauve have a love affair with a gorilla, and a sundry other ridiculous plot devices designed to show us that time is short, life is precious and we need to make the most of it.
Back in 1991, writer-director Jaco Van Dormael created a gem of a film called Toto the Hero where fantasy and childhood were explored to touching effect, but in his new effort, there isn't a satisfying sense of purpose to the story. It's quite sweet and gentle and tries at times to be profound, as if the crew has been shown Amelie on a loop. Indeed there are touching moments, but what does it all add up to? Not very much really, unless God confined to a workhouse, whilst Goddess creates flowery skies and allows us to defy gravity, is what the meaning of life is all about. You can't help feeling once the film is over, that it should be about something more.
THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: JACO VAN DORMAEL / SCREENPLAY: JACO VAN DORMAEL, THOMAS GUNZIG / STARRING: BENOÎT POELVOORDE, CATHERINE DENEUVE, FRANÇOIS DAMIENS / RELEASE DATE: 25TH MARCH