Le tout nouveau testament
Director: Jaco Van Dormael
Writer: Jaco Van Dormael, Thomas Gunzig
Cast: Pili Groyne, Benoît Poelvoorde, Catherine Deneuve, François Damiens, Yolande Moreau
Seen on: 4.2.2016
God (Benoît Poelvoorde) leaves in Brussels with his daughter Ea (Pili Groyne) and his wife (Yolande Moreau). He’s a bitter, abusive man who enjoys nothing more than making humanity’s existence as miserable as possible, including his wife and daughter. One day, Ea decides that she’s had enough. With a little nudge from her brother, she decides to find six new apostles and change her father’s regime, starting with sending all of humanity their precise date of death and destroying the computer God usually works with. But God won’t go down without a fight.
I quite liked the idea of the film and I’m sure that Van Dormael and Gunzig had good intentions. Nevertheless the film and its overwhelming sexism left a sour taste in my mouth.
What Van Dormael and Gunzig have been aiming for, I think, was to say that maybe we should shift power away from the men and let the women be in charge for once. And while I’m all for rethinking power structures and dismantling (white) (male) privilege, the way the film goes about it is inherently problematic. For one, it suggests that there is some intrinsically feminine quality that is lacking in male leadership, while most modern gender theories try to move away from the idea of something intrinsically feminine or masculine. Le tout nouveau testament sticks with “goddesses make floral patterns in the sky:”
Then there’s also the fact that not even in this superficially feminist take on religion, they dared to make all the new apostles female (making six out of 18 apostles female at least). They do have two woman and a trans* girl (props to that), but their stories are problematic, to say the least. One of the women lost her arm and since doesn’t believe that anyone could find her attractive or loveable. She gets paired up with one of the other apostles and their first contact is when he shoots her because he has decided that since everybody’s date of death is set already, he can freely go around shooting people. He hits her prosthetic arm, stalks her for a bit and love ensues. The other woman is a bored housewife who needs affection which she finally finds with a gorilla. And not like a smart gorilla like Peter Hoeg wrote about. Just a normal ape. Because women of a certain age can’t expect to get what they need from human men or something? I don’t know. I really don’t know. (The stories of the male apostles where also problematic and sexist, but these were really more of a slap in the face.)
And finally arguably the most important woman in the entire film – God’s wife who takes over the power after the 18th apostle is recruited (18 having always been her number) – never gets a name in the film, practically has no lines to say and isn’t seen for a lot of time of the film (doubly sad because Moreau is so wonderful in the role). She is a completely passive player and when she finally does come into power, the first thing she does is change the look of the world. Which, you know, is fine. There is something to floral patterned skies. But in its stereotypicality it constructs the polar opposites of masculinty as embodied by God (abusive, sadistic, egotistical, slobby, aggressive and power-hungry) and God’s wife (quiet, selfless, aesthetic, carer, neat). Women are still relegated to clean up after the men. And shouldn’t we have moved past such a gender concept?
Of course the movie isn’t only about gender. It does have its moments, too, for example the way Jesus makes his appearances. But for me the gender aspect and my frustration with it, overshadowed most of the film. I’d rather stick with Dogma’s reinterpretation of Christianity.