Film released in 1998, commisioned for the 2000 Seen By
project, which brought together notable film-makers from around to world to tackle the issue of the coming millenium. Hal Hartley’s effort manages to send up the notion of the apocalypse
in his typically offbeat way.
It's December 31, 1999, and Jesus Christ, looking rakish in a pressed suit and tie combination, is in town to meet with his Father's lawyers to set the Apocalypse in motion. The film, shot on digital video, follows Jesus (Martin Donovan) as he wanders around Manhattan, pondering whether or not he should unleash his judgment upon the world. He is accompanied by Magdalena, his personal assistant and confidante. Satan, it seems, is content with the way things have been running all along. “Let God have his eternity,” he sneers. “My precincts are the seconds and the minutes of the everyday. As long as there is a future, well, I have my work to do.” In a little over an hour, with only about a half dozen main characters and only the barest special effects, Hartley weaves a fugue of hope, resignation, and a generalized sense of millennial tension.
The Book of Life should be seen not just for its nuance and irony, but also to see PJ Harvey's suitably disaffected portrayal of Magdalena.