The Brand New Testament [Le tout nouveau testament]

Director:
Jaco Van Dormael
Release Year:
2015
Classification:
15
Length (mins):
114
Country:
Belgium / France / Luxembourg
Screening Date:
  • 16-Apr-2024
  • Categories:
    Comedy, Fantasy
    Trailer:
    Summary:

    Did you know that God is alive and well and living in Brussels with his daughter? In this absurdist yet ultimately moral film, God is a cynical writer having “fun” with humankind, but his young daughter collects additional disciples in order to liberate humanity.

    F-Rating:
    What's this?
    F-Rated Bronze

    Film Notes

    The Brand New Testament review – God's not dead, just useless, in a sweet and blasphemous satire.

    In Jaco van Dormael’s peppy, inventive comedy, everyone gets a text message from the Almighty, while “JC”’s sister gathers a gang of disciples.

    God is real and is a mean bastard who never gets off his computer. You already know about his son, now let’s hear about his daughter. This new film from Belgian director Jaco van Dormael (Toto the Hero, Mr Nobody) won’t exactly win favour with the ultra-faithful, but for those who like their Bible stories with a thick coat of satire, The Brand New Testament is a peppy, original and (importantly) very sweet story.

    It begins in the centre of the universe: a dingy flat in Brussels. God spends his day intentionally making people miserable, tapping out rules on his his outdated DOS computer and fiddling with his train set. He giggles as he makes sure the toast always falls jam-side down, or that whatever queue you are on will be the slowest. His wife (simply called the Goddess) is sweet and simple, focusing on embroidery and her baseball card collection. But 10-year-old daughter Ea (played by a fantastic young actress, Pili Groyne) is observant, gaining in powers and wants to change things. “Don’t get crazy ideas like your brother,” Dad grunts, but later that evening she has a conversation with “JC” and the pair devise a plan. Ea is going to get six additional disciples, and listen to them, thus creating a Brand New Testament.

    Before she can do this, she must free the world from their need for her bum of a father. Sneaking into his office, she sends a text message to everyone in the world, detailing precisely how much time they have left until they die. At first people think it is a hoax, but when the 30-minute crowd all start dropping dead (and always in funny ways), they realise it’s for real.

    For some, the news changes nothing, but others radically change their lives. One guy with decades left to live becomes a daredevil, jumping off buildings but always surviving due to increasingly silly saves. Another person decides to spend his remaining years building the Titanic out of matchsticks. Most people decide that they have no interest in God.

    Ea then speaks to her six randomly chosen people and listens to their gospels. Some are silly (like Catherine Deneuve’s, which includes her taking a gorilla from a zoo to her bed); others are touching, such as that of a sickly 10-year-old boy who wants to live out the rest of his days as a girl. There’s also an angry dude who always wanted to shoot at people, and now uses the reasonable logic that if he hits them, it was meant to be.

    As Ea gathers her new disciples and the world begins adjusting to a new social order, things ultimately become rather pleasant. A scene at “death beach” where people go to say goodbye to loved ones is more of a celebration than anything else. (A celebration with dark humour: an old man in a suit and tie is seen checking his watch as if he’s annoyed by the wait.)

    God tries to follow Ea down to the streets and finds that he’s completely incapable of taking care of himself. Not to spoil the movie, but it’s too funny not to mention that he ultimately ends up deported “back to Uzbekistan”. Significantly, one of the kindest characters in the film (other than a homeless St Peter fill-in who knows how to retrieve fish burgers from a fast-food dumpster) is a member of the clergy. The specifics of his faith are not discussed, but his moral compass remains undamaged.

    What’s best is that through it all Van Dormael maintains a blazing storytelling momentum and a highly creative visual scheme. He’s in the Gondry/Gilliam zone, but if you can’t get down with a floating fish skeleton humming La Mer, why do you go to the movies in the first place?

    Everyone on Earth is ultimately doomed, but this is a vision of optimism, of people being given the opportunity to help one another and doing it with tenderness. If you can get past the initial blasphemy, you’ll find a highly moral film.

    Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian, Tue 19 May 2015 

    Jaco Van Dormael has never lacked for inspired invention, but sustaining audience interest in the worlds he creates has not always proved so easy. Now with the consistently playful, often delightful and frequently funny God fantasy The Brand New Testament, the Belgian auteur delivers his most substantially enjoyable film since 1991’s Toto The Hero. His first full screenwriting collaboration on a feature – with Thomas Gunzig – signals a creative resuscitation for Van Dormael, who rather tried audiences’ patience with his last film, 2009’s ambitious, overloaded Mr Nobody.

    Congregations will likely respond strongly to The Brand New Testament’s inspired “what if?” scenario: God (Benoît Poelvoorde), it turns out, lives among us, or at least in a Brussels three-bedroom apartment, with his unnamed goddess wife (Yolande Moreau) and ten-year-old daughter Ea (a well-chosen Pili Groyne). In this universe, God isn’t so much benign or vengeful, but more a heartless bastard, who enjoys nothing more than heaping vexations large and small on the species he created in his own image.

    Perpetually attired in a grey T-shirt and ratty dressing gown, he’s an obnoxious bully to his wife and daughter – that’s when he’s not busy locked in his office, smoking, boozing and inflicting misery on mankind via his vintage desktop computer.

    After God takes a belt to his daughter, who has never been allowed outside the family home, Ea solicits advice from a her long-lost brother “JC” (a kitsch statuette of Jesus Christ that comes briefly to life) and enacts an ingenious revenge on her father. Hacking into his hard drive, she sends a text message to the mobile phone of every human advising them of their exact date of death, crashes the computer to rob God of any power to cause more mischief, and then breaks out of the apartment prison via a secret portal at the back of the family’s washing machine.

    After such a strong set-up, sustaining the story momentum and comic energy was always going to be a tough ask, and the pacing does inevitably sag as Ea hooks up with a homeless bum (Marco Lorenzini), and then recruits six more apostles to contribute fresh chapters for the titular Bible update. Some of these characters – which include a sex addict, a killer and a sickly boy – register more vividly than others, but best of all is the haute-bourgeois lady (Catherine Deneuve) who, ignored by her businessman husband and with only five years left on her clock, enjoys an assignation with a pretty young rentboy and then finds a more enduring romantic pairing with the gorilla she purchases from a local circus. Deneuve, it is now abundantly clear, really is game for anything.

    Laughs reliably return every time the film cuts to the travails of God, who follows Ea through the portal (which his browbeaten wife immediately seals behind him), and is mistaken for a paperless illegal immigrant. His selfish nature repels anyone who tries to help, and the indignities pile up. A ratty-faced Poelvoorde is excellent in the role, brilliantly capturing the exasperation of a man who is entirely to blame for his own misfortune. The story wraps up satisfyingly with a female-positive takeaway that gives the naturally sympathetic Moreau some nice scenes of her own. As might be expected with Van Dormael, technical credits are very proficient, with Sylvie Olive’s production design a particular standout.

    CHARLES GANT, Screen Daily, 17 MAY 2015

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