God is alive and living in Brussels, Jaco Van Dormael’s The Brand New Testament takes on the Jealous One with quirk and whimsy. And an enormous gorilla.
Of Gods And Menby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
It’s with a certain amount of glee that Jaco Van Dormael sets out his stall; God lives in Brussels. And he’s Benoît Poelvoorde. With a permanent scowl and a dirty dressing gown. He lives there with his wife (a sadly underused Yolande Moreau) and his daughter Ea (Pili Groyne). His son JC already absconded down to Earth to right the wrongs of the father. But thanks to the thousands of misanthropic rules laid down by God – that toast should always lands jam side down or that the queue beside should always moves faster – ordinary earthlings just aren’t very happy. And now it’s up to Ea to find her six apostles Aurélie (Laura Verlinden), François (François Damiens), Martine (Cathérine Deneuve) Marc, Jean-Claude and Willy and write her own Brand New Testament. With a baffling gospel and an anarchic whimsy (which ranges from talking birds, love affairs with gorillas, collecting human tears and floral skies) Le Tout Nouveau Testament angles for something akin to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie. And there’s a delicious level of detail – which sees Ea forbidden from sitting round the dinner table on the right hand of the father. Or that sees God punished by his own rules. But while there’s little philosophy behind this framework of a wayward theocracy, where The Brand New Testament falls apart is in its recruitment of apostles – each chapter unconnected to the others in what becomes an unnecessary sidetrack from the main story. Trying too hard to be quirky and original, Jaco Van Dormael’s film veers away from its delicious premise into a shambolic ending of God’s unplugged computer, a dying boy in a dress and a vague racism against Uzbekis – a disaster-movie ending that leaves us hankering for a darker, cleverer take on God’s absence. But if The Brand New Testament can’t get it right this time, maybe Jaco Van Dormael can just write a new one.
The Brand New Testament is now showing at the London Film Festival