The Brand New Testament (Le Tout Nouveau Testament) is a fantasy black comedy directed, produced and co-written by Belgian Jaco van Dormael (Le Huitieme Jour, Mr Nobody).
This was the first time van Dormael had ever collaborated during the writing process, and he says that he and co-writer Thomas Gunzig explored multiple ‘what if?’ scenarios. What if God lived in Brussels? What if he had a daughter? Apparently Van Dormael isn’t a believer, and remembers wondering as a child why God didn’t do anything when his son was crucified, and why Batman saves people, but God doesn’t.
The film is enlightening. We find out God (Benoit Poelvoorde) lives in an apartment in Brussels, has a wife and daughter and (this part we know) a famous son named Jesus Christ. And God is a sadist. He delights in making the lives of his family and human playthings on Earth utterly odious. God’s wife (played expertly by Yolande Moreau) has practically been rendered mute as a result of his abuse. One day, their 10-year-old daughter Ea (Pili Groyne) decides to put a stop to it all, so she hacks God’s computer and sends everyone on Earth their date of death via SMS.
It doesn’t take long for this to have an effect on how people start living their lives. Some quit their jobs, some children stop going to school, and one particular character, Kevin, rises to the challenge of his 80-odd remaining years, and becomes a social media star for his risk-taking antics. Conflicts and wars grind to a halt – as what’s the point in fighting, when they all know when they’re going to die? When God realises what Ea has done unto him, he is angry to say the least.
But Ea has escaped to the real world, where she begins to recruit six new apostles, each of them lovable losers with everything to gain. Joining them on their journey is a homeless man, who Ea asks, despite his dyslexia, to write a Brand New Testament based on their adventures.
A particularly memorable apostle is Martine, played by French actress Catherine Deneuve, who falls in love with a gorilla. I was particularly excited to see François Damiens in the role of François the apostle, as he’s one of my favourite comedians. If you haven’t heard of him I recommend YouTubing some of his hidden camera skits.
The Brand New Testament is like a new-age fairy tale in which anything can, and does, happen. It is thoroughly ridiculous. Don’t let the trailer for this film fool you into thinking it’s purely a comedy, though, as there are some dark, dark moments.
While this film contains some truly grand ideas, for me, it falls down in its execution. Perhaps it’s the fact that all these crazy ideas come together in a jumble, not giving us time to scratch the surface. However, it is a fun ride. Next time you’re standing in a line at the supermarket and the other queue moves faster than yours, or if you’re just getting into the bath when the phone rings, instead of swearing, you may just smile.
Listen to the podcast of Gemma’s review live on Breakfast with Caitlin on RTR FM 92.1 here.
The Brand New Testament is now showing as part of Lotterywest Festival Films, Season 1. At UWA Somerville nightly until Sunday 24 January, then at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday 26 to Sunday 31 January. Tickets/more info: perthfestival.com.au