‘Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister?” is a nearly forgotten song, but it could be the tagline for Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael’s (Toto the Hero) latest feature, The Brand New Testament, in which an abusive God (Benoît Poelvoorde) hatches the world’s catastrophes on an outdated desktop computer amid towers of old filing cabinets.
He’s in present-day Brussels, in a sealed-off high-rise with his frustrated ten-year-old daughter, Ea (Pili Groyne), and silent wife (Yolande Moreau). Ea, with her brother’s guidance, escapes and starts to recruit apostles of her own.
The film is a pastiche: Its escape suggests Time Bandits and an interlude with a gorilla plays like Max, Mon Amour (what trauma did France and Belgium endure that they serve as the setting for films about how great fucking an ape would be?).
Testament is full of bad jokes (like a man repeatedly throwing himself from great heights to prove he won’t die) and, in spite of Groyne’s grave, determined presence as Ea, is borderline offensive. Ea’s first apostle is a pretty woman, Aurélie (Laura Verlinden), with a prosthetic arm: In spite of her injury occurring in childhood, she is sad and alone as an adult — because apparently disabled people can’t be happy.
But the final straw is when another of Ea’s apostles, Martine (Catherine Deneuve), admonishes the young male escort she beds, “Don’t look” as she gets up to put on a robe. We should all be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Catherine Deneuve — at any age — naked.
The Brand New Testament
Directed by Jaco Van Dormael
Music Box Films
Opens December 9, IFC Center