THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT (Belgium | France | Luxembourg/TBC/113mins)
Directed by Jaco Van Dormael. Starring Pili Groyne, Benoît Poelvoorde, Catherine Deneuve, François Damiens, Yolande Moreau.
THE PLOT: God (Benoît Poelvoorde) exists, and he lives in Brussels; he is arrogant and rather cruel to humanity, as well as his wife and daughter Ea (Pili Groyne), so the 10 year old girl sets out to make a few changes. After consulting with her older brother JC (David Murgia) Ea sneaks into her father’s office, releases important information to mankind, and sets out to gather six apostles, with the hopes of making some changes.
THE VERDICT: A far cry from Nietzsche’s assertion that “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him”, Jaco Van Dormael’s film sets out to prove that God is alive and well, and playing with humanity for his own selfish fun. This an absurdly comic look at what would happen if someone rebelled against God’s seemingly random acts of cruelty, and tried to make life better.
Pili Groyne leads the cast here as the daughter of God, Ea. Groyne makes the character gentle and caring – the way many imagine their god to be – and someone who has a genuine interest in humans and life on Earth. Groyne also makes the earnest and intense 10 year old girl wonderfully odd, but with a sense of fun and fate that makes the character work. Benoît Poelvoorde plays an arrogant and angry God, with Yolande Moreau taking on the role over the bullied wife of God. Catherine Deneuve, François Damiens, Laura Verlinden, Serge Larivière, Didier De Neck and Romain Gelin make up Ea’s choices for Apostles, and Marco Lorenzini plays Victor, the man Ea tasks with writing the new testament she has set out to create.
The screenplay, written by Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig is a darkly comic look at those with god complexes, and just what people do with ultimate power. There is the idea that ultimate power corrupts, as well as the notion that God created us just to play with us because animals didn’t seem right in the big city. The story follows some of the ideas of theBible, with Ea spending time with each of her chosen Apostles, not to preach at them, but to help them to see there is a different way for them to live their lives and, in a particularly engaging move, have her hear the inner songs of the people she meets. The screenplay is also caustic and damning of the idea of a higher power in general, and will certainly please those of us who often wondered how things would be different if God were in fact real, and if she were a woman instead.
Director Jaco Van Dormael makes sure that the audience sympathy lies with Ea throughout the film; although she makes some bad decisions, she makes them for the right reasons in her quest to help humanity. The pacing of the film is steady throughout, and even though it begins to stagger slightly about half way through the 113 minute running time, ‘The Brand New Testamant’ soon recovers, bring the film to an absurd, heartwarming and hilarious ending. There are questions asked and answered throughout the film, making this metaphysical dark comedy feel as though it was written by Charlie Kaufman, as it explores just what it is to be human, and our relationship with life and death.
In all, ‘The Brand New Testament’ is absurd, quirky and funny on the surface, but has a strong message and a dark core, with which it fires shots at the established ideas of God and religion as a whole. The cast, particularly Pili Groyne, are superb and, a slight drop in momentum aside, the film is well paced, engaging and thought-provoking.
RATING: 4.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

The Brand New Testament
Review by Brogen Hayes
4.5Engaging and thought-provoking
  • filmbuff2011

    The Brand New Testament is an absurdist comedy from Belgium which takes an alternative view of religion and whether God is just a bored and mischievous prankster playing the biggest joke on all of us.

    God isn’t a bearded man who lives in the clouds surrounded by angels. He’s actually a frustrated, bad-tempered middle-aged man (Benoit Poelvoorde) who lives in Brussels with his wife (Yolande Moreau) and their 10-year-old daughter Ea (Pili Groyne). Her older brother JC (David Murgia) has since moved out of the house but dispenses holy wisdom to Ea when required. God makes decisions about human life in his decision room via a computer. After a row with her father, Ea gets into the room and decides to get revenge by releasing every human’s death date via their phones. She also locks her father out of his computer. Ea escapes the house and into the real world where she observes the chaos she has made. She also sets out to write her own brand new testament by gathering six apostles to re-write the course of human lives, hopefully for the better…

    Belgium’s official submission for this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar is a rather puzzling one. It has a very particular brand of Belgian humour that would no doubt baffle the Academy’s rather conservative members (which is perhaps why it didn’t make the cut). It also baffled this reviewer, who loves a quirky comedy but found it all a bit too much. It starts out with the idea that God is a prankster who decides that the phone rings when people are in the bathtub or that bread with jam on it falls to the ground with the jam side down. That’s mildly amusing in a quirky way, but never laugh-out-loud funny. This God is more focused on the small things in life, rather than the bigger issues like war, famine, disease and death. It’s only through the actions of his more perceptive daughter does he begin to realise how irrelevant he really is.

    Jaco Van Dormael, who also directed Toto The Hero, co-wrote the story with Thomas Gunzig. It quickly runs out of steam after the first act, instead focusing on six mini films within the overall film. None of the stories about the six apostles is particularly relevant or even interesting, with the great Catherine Deneuve reduced to little more than a bit part involving falling in love with a gorilla (yes, really). The idea of what people would do knowing when they will die is certainly an interesting one, but Van Dormael plays it for absurdity rather than heart-felt humour. It just doesn’t work. One character tries to kill himself repeatedly but is unable to do so – a direct lift from a far superior comedy, Groundhog Day. It becomes increasingly tiresome and is 20 minutes overlong as a result. The Monty-Python-like ending really takes the biscuit. The Brand New Testament is obviously one of those films that you’ll get either get or you won’t. This reviewer just didn’t get it and found it an acquired taste at best. **