Thursday, September 20, 2007


God’s Comedy is perhaps the oddest film I’ve ever seen.

The God of the title is protagonist João de Deus (“John of God”), a Portuguese ice-cream maker with a thing for adolescent girls. Among his many other oddities, de Deus has an expansive collection of pubic hair, carefully catalogued in his “Book of Thoughts.” Yet his ice cream is, we’re given to understand, divine, so justifying the name of the establishment in which he works: “Paradise.”

But its thanks to his odd penchants that life takes a turn for the worse for João. He invites the butcher’s young daughter back to his apartment where, inter alia, he encourages her to sit on a chair full of eggs and to take a bath in milk, from which he will later make the most perfect ice cream. The butcher is none too pleased, and after an extended routine in which the João’s cigarettes are confiscated one by one, the butcher beats the ice-cream maker to a bloody pulp.

True to his name, however, de Deus seems to have a touch of immortality. At the hospital he overhears the doctor whisper that he won’t make it through the night, at which he summons up sufficient energy to raise one bony finger and intone “That’s what you think.” And so although the film ends in apparent disaster, with de Deus fired from his job, his apartment trashed, and his “Book of Thoughts” burned to a cinder, we have the impression that he will continue on to play out his surreal perversions another day. In this sense, the film is also a comedy of bare life.

Shot almost exclusively in excruciatingly long takes and an absolutely immobile camera, it would be hard to say that this “Comedy” is a barrel of laughs. Often enough time practically stands still, though this too can be a source of humour as in a scene in which a visiting French dignitary solemnly undertakes a tasting of de Deus’s product, in the wake of speeches and national anthems and a priestly blessing. At the scene’s climax, the Frenchman solemnly declares that the ice cream tastes “shit” (though we are led to believe that this may be a function of national jealousy).

And if we accept the metaphorical implications, that this is also a film more broadly about la comédie humaine, it should be said that on the whole that’s not particularly funny either.

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