English Title: The Brand New Testament
Original Title: Le tout nouveau testament
Country: Belgium, France, Luxembourg
Language: French, German
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Director: Jaco Van Dormael
Jaco Van Dormael
Music: An Pierlé
Cinematography: Christophe Beaucarne
Didier De Neck
Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael enjoys instant fame from his director debut TOTO THE HERO back in 1991, THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT is technically his fifth feature-length film if one includes his hands-only experimental work KISS & CRY (2011), which also finds a niche in the movie, but for a more mainstream audience, it is the long-waited follow up to his cult fantasy MR. NOBODY 2009.
Judging by its name, this fantastic comedy blatantly satires the existence of God, who is played by Poelvoode in his crankiest temperament, a middle-aged man living in an apartment in Brussels, with his humble wife (Moreau), their daughter Ea (Groyne) and the absence of their son Jesus Christ (Murgia). God is testy, abusive to his wife and daughter, plays tricks to human beings through his omnipotent computer simply out of boredom. One day Ea is punished for sneaking into his office and realises what her father is doing in his office hour, she decides to play tit-for-tat, at first, she clandestinely sends the death countdown of everyone in Brussels from God’s computer to everyone’s cellphones, then crawls from the washing machine of their apartment to the real world for the first time and resolves to find 6 disciples (thanks to the instruction of J.C.), to write down a new testament, in order to save the world from being a plaything of the abominable God.
Can you buy this context? It is archetype of some less intelligent lifeforms try to envision a much profound scenario (which is in every respect out of their comprehension) with their own rather narrow knowledges, to entertain themselves, so its innate drawback is the bitter taste of self-consciousness with this paradoxical situations: in one hand, it is massively pleasing to dethrone our creator from his reverential pedal, and put him in our shoes and being ridiculed to the hilt (he is actually beaten by a priest at one time), but in the other hand, one tends to be disillusioned by this self-pleasing approach, even in our widest imagination, God is so earth-bound with human-friendly technology, and living conditions, too blasé to feel thrilled.
From the hardware department, this CGI-heavy picture looks pristine but artificial, but one cannot help but flashing a smile when sees Denueve’s apostle Martine cuddling with a not-so-convincing gorilla, a knowing nod to Nagisa Oshima’s MAX MON AMOUR (1986). And a revamped appendix where a Goddess to take over the power is self-pleasing to contradict the patriarchal system, but a female-friendly sky pattern or a walking with your pet fish under the sea, or swapping the gestation to male, only means something novel to experience, with no say to contend it is a better world. Still, it is a venturing project to tackle with those larger-than-life if not entirely zany propositions, most amusingly is the exposure of everyone’s remaining time, turns out to be a goldmine to ridicule the vagaries of human behaviour.
The design of Ea’s six disciples is to encourage ourselves to be more communicative, to open up instead of indulging in one’s own propensities, and to pursue what our hearts really crave for (a repetitive troupe of a theme song for every soul). Newcomer Pili Groyne impresses with her cherubic and precocious attributes (but how come God has a daughter only ten years old? This is a minefield Dormael refuses to elucidate); supporting players are all bigger names in French-speaking cinema, but none of them is required to perform other than their characters’ formulated quirks.
All in all, the intention behind Dormael’s comedy is genial and it aims for distraction rather than religion-defiance, it is not a divine eye-opener like it advertises, but neither is a disappointing pap, it sits somewhere in between, quite comfortably.