The Brand New Testament

 

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This surrealistic comedy from Belgium is initially splendid but has problems in offering an apt development.

 
Brand New Testament

Stranger than Scriptures: Serge Larivière 

 

If asked to name a memorable Belgian film those of a certain age might well come up with Jaco van Dormael’s hit Toto the Hero, made in 1991. This less than prolific director – four films in twenty-four years, I’m told – now re-emerges as both director and co-writer of The Brand New Testament. It boasts an admirably original concept: God has a young daughter, Ea, sister of Jesus, who gets out into our world by way of a tunnel inside a washing machine which enables her to emerge in a Brussels laundromat. Her aim is to seek six apostles of her own (in preference to her brother’s twelve) and she hires a homeless man to write up her endeavours. That a New Testament is needed is as logical as her rebellion since her father is a God who can be thought of as Mr Nasty: it is much to his pleasure that his Commandments have caused chaos and he believes in hating your neighbour (that reference to loving your neighbour was actually a misquote). However Ea herself creates problems by using God’s computer to release to the world details of just when each living individual is due to die.

Well played by a cast that includes Catherine Deneuve and Yolande Moreau but leaving the latter with far too little to do, the first section of this film is very engaging. However, the quest for six disciples leads to six distinct episodes featuring each potential apostle in turn and this proves to be hit and miss stuff. There is too little sense of the initial idea being developed meaningfully. If the sixth episode featuring a boy who wants to be a girl is somewhat closer in spirit to Toto the Hero, Deneuve’s segment, one in which she replaces an unsatisfactory husband by taking a gorilla as her new lover, plays as a pale echo of Oshima’s Max, mon amour (1986). Anyone drawn to unconventional comedy will find this an appealing film, but as it draws towards the two hour mark it comes to seem a half-formed project which would have gained from a re-write building greater coherence by creating some clearly developed thematic viewpoint.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Pili Groyne, Benoît Poelvoorde, Catherine Deneuve, François Damiens, Yolande Moreau, Laura Verlinden, Serge Larivière, Didier de Neck, Romain Gelin, Marco Lorenzini.

 

Dir Jaco Van Dormael, Pro Jaco Van Dormael Olivier Rausin and Daniel Marquet, Screenplay Thomas Gunzig and Jaco Van Dormael, Ph Christophe Beaucame, Art Dir Sylvie Olivé, Ed Hervé de Luze, Music An Pierlé, Costumes Caroline Koener.

 

A Terra Incognita Films production/A Climax Films, Après le Déluge production/A Juliette Films, Caviar co-production etc.-Metrodome Distribution Ltd.
115 mins. Belgium/France/Luxembourg. 2015. Rel: 15 April 2016. Cert. 15.