Catherine Deneuve romancing a gorilla. That’s one of the head-scratching curiosities in “The Brand New Testament,” Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael’s goof on the Bible. Is pairing the French screen goddess with the big hairy guy from the zoo a funny conceit? That depends on your sense of humor. For this reviewer, Van Dormael’s film was pure torture from first to last, about as mirthless a comedy as I ever hope to see.
But I’m guessing mine is a minority opinion. The movie was well-received when it debuted at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and has won “best film” prizes in a number of European film festivals. So presumably some folks find it screamingly funny. All of which underscores the truism that humor is largely subjective.
If ever there was an occasion to lament the star ratings on reviews, this is it. The two stars here are meant to split the difference between my entirely negative opinion of the film—though the project is admittedly very well crafted—and what seems to be the larger consensus.
Understand that my dislike of the film has nothing to do with its quasi-sacrilegious premise. Spoofs of the Good Book are fine by me; they just need to be funny, but Van Dormael (“Toto the Hero”) is no Monty Python or Mel Brooks. He imagines God (played with consummate unpleasantness by Benoît Poelvoorde) as a gross guy who lives in a Brussels high-rise, where he spends most of his time at his computer devising new tortures for the human race. His son, JC, once escaped the household and was killed by the people he meant to help. Now God’s only companions are JC’s little sister, Ea (Pili Groyne), and their mom (Yolande Moreau), a mute presence who devotes much of her time to her collection of baseball cards.