The Brand New Testament
Cheeky yet compassionate fantasy from Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael
‘God exists. He lives in Brussels. He’s a bastard,’ we discover at the outset of Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael’s proudly blasphemous but ultimately well-intentioned latest, co-written with Thomas Gunzig. Boasting ample idiosyncrasy and audacity, The Brand New Testament is a bouncing ball of blackly comic mischief that sets its sights on religious tradition and mankind’s unremitting misery, making its home deep in the darkness before embracing the light.
Narrated by God’s adorable, lesser-known daughter Ea (Pili Groyne) it sees the plucky ten-year-old defy her monstrous father (an enjoyably awful Benoît Poelvoorde) by escaping their dingy flat and shutting down the computer that allows him to gleefully heap misery on his creations. Ea sets out to write the titular, remedial volume with the help of a homeless scribe called Victor (Marco Lorenzini) and six apostles (including François Damiens and Catherine Deneuve’s caged bird Martine, who finds comfort in the arms of a rather hirsute lover in an unforgettably surreal scene), with this little lionheart liberating her oppressed goddess mother (Yolande Moreau) in the process. But it’s Ea’s act of releasing the preordained death dates that has the most impact, as every person in the world receives a countdown that hurries to the precise moment they will expire.
Nominated for a Golden Globe and recalling the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet at his best, the fifth narrative feature from Van Dormael (director of Toto the Hero and Mr Nobody) could have done with a bit of a trim, running short on ideas before its own time is up; while the first act overflows with wit and ingenuity, by the third it’s settled into a gently repetitive rhythm. No matter – for this is fun, visually interesting, two-fingers-in-the-air filmmaking which, in its compassion for those lonely souls on society’s fringes, reminds us that even the most scathing of satire needn’t be heartless.
Selected release from Fri 15 Apr.