'The Brand New Testament' Director on Belgium's Oscar Submission: "If the Pope Saw This Movie, He'd Have a Laugh"

Courtesy of Le Pacte
'The Brand New Testament'

Jaco Van Dormael tells THR that the idea for the religious comedy resonates with a line from Woody Allen: "If God exists, I hope he has a good excuse."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Jaco Van Dormael has been here before. The Belgian director had two previous films submitted for consideration for the foreign-language Oscar: the 1991 cult hit Toto the Hero and 1996's The Eighth Day. Neither received a nomination, but the third time could be the charm for the 58-year-old filmmaker.

Since his latest feature, The Brand New Testament, premiered at Cannes in May, it has been embraced by critics and has become a crossover hit in Europe. The comedy's high-concept setup — God is alive and lives in Brussels — makes way for a playful examination of faith and philos­ophy after God's rebellious daughter hacks his computer and sends all the people in the world a text message revealing the time and method of their death.

The film has a crazy premise. Where did the idea originate?

"I never really know, but I think there was some resonance with a line from Woody Allen: "If God exists, I hope he has a good excuse." The first idea was to take God and put him in a very con­crete setting — so I picked Brussels, the city I live in and know inside out. The second idea was to give him a wife and daughter and to make the daughter a rebellious teenager."

How have audiences reacted?

"We've had screenings in very Catholic areas in Spain, Italy and Poland, and they were really good. I wasn't kidnapped by a dozen mil­itant nuns — even if that is a fantasy of mine — and even in Belgium I was positively surprised. I think even if the pope — particularly this pope — saw this movie, he'd have a laugh."

Catherine Deneuve plays a woman who leaves her husband for a gorilla. How did you convince her to join the cast?

"There wasn't much convincing — it was very quick. I sent her the script, and she said yes. She's afraid of nothing — not even being in bed with a gorilla who ends up being much more loving than her husband."