Acclaimed director Jaco Van Dormael’s latest film The Brand New Testament is a departure from his usual fare, drifting from drama to comedy. However, it lacks no less meaning or depth than his past works. We were fortunate enough to have Jaco take some time out of his busy schedule in Japan recently to discuss religion, humour, and gender inequality ahead of the film’s release on DVD and Bluray today.
A prominent part of The Brand New Testament is the concept that everyone has their own inner music. How did you decide what music went with which character and is this an idea that you feel you could apply to anyone you met?
The six new apostles are magnificent losers, people who think that happiness and love are not for them anymore. They spend their lives in the waiting room of happiness. They are people you wouldn't notice if you crossed them in the street.
I wanted their inner music to be magnificent, over the top operas and baroque music; to make you feel that they are huge inside even if they are little from the outside.
What does religion mean to you and has it played an important role in your life?
I don’t believe in God, I believe in doubts. Some people find their force from believing in God, I find mine in my doubts. I try to make films that ask questions and don’t give answers. I like the questions and don’t believe in the answers for a long time.
Deleuze had a funny quote: “Religion and cinema have one thing in common, they try to make you believe life could have a meaning.”
But I think this is less a film about religion than about power and domination. That can exist in religion, politics, family, between a man and a woman. Powers that say: “obey or there will be a punishment.” God’s daughter says: “There will be no laws and no punishment, don’t be afraid, you can choose a life that is not from the Ikea catalogue of lives.”
The concept of a female Messiah is something that strays from the traditional dogma of virtually every religion. Was this issue of gender inequality in religion something that you looked to overtly address and if so what makes this important to you?
I was always surprised that in the Bible and the New Testament women say perhaps two sentences. Since [most] religions became monotheisms the goddess disappeared. Religions are stories written by men, for men, with men. It was a great pleasure to say: “And what if God has a wife and a daughter that nobody ever spoke about?”
Humour plays a large part in The Brand New Testament. Was it at all difficult to get the tone and balance right when pairing humour with what is to many people a sensitive and divisive subject matter?
In my past films, comedy was in the background, drama in the foreground. Here comedy is in the foreground. In drama, sometimes I feel it can be painful to go too far. It can make you feel what is behind the wall, but I try to stop this in the main. With comedy, like in this film, even if there is always pain in the background, you never go too far. It allows you to get away with a lot.
If you were God for a day what would you change and why?
I hope for the sake of the world that I never become God.
Words by Jon Heywood