Genre: Comedy, Fantasty
Directed by: Jaco Van Dormael
Starring: Pili Groyne, Benoît Poelvoorde, Catherine Deneuve
God exists! But he’s more a derelict than a deity in director Jaco Van Dormael’s delightfully dark-edged dramedy. This divine creator, played as a loutish sadist by a devilishly brilliant Benoît Poelvoorde, doesn’t watch over us from above though. Instead he lives in a Brussels apartment with his submissive wife (Yolande Moreau), and their spirited 10-year-old daughter Ea (Pili Groyne).
In contrast to Holy Scripture, God did not create humankind for his pleasure, but in an attempt to stave off boredom. Early scenes show an empty Belgian cityscape populated with wild animals: a stupendously surreal sequence that could come straight out of a Roy Andersson reimagining of Bruce Almighty. Soon, however, the dastardly demiurge progresses to people, desperate for a species he can have complete control over. He manipulates man’s reality via a personal computer, writing in laws solely designed to torment their existence.Ea has spent her life suffering from physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her father, but having discovered how he has been mistreating humanity, the young girl decides to rebel. Beginning by informing every individual in the world of his or her pre-destined death date, Ea escapes the apartment, and sets off in the footsteps of her brother Jesus, searching for apostles to help her write a scripture intended to spiritually uplift the human race.
Dormael’s script, co-written with Thomas Gunzig, is bitingly sardonic in its nature: God plagues mankind with rules that ensure their toast will always land butter-side down, and guarantee that the other line in the supermarket checkout will always move faster. While later, once he enters the outside world in pursuit of his daughter, the heinous Holy Father discovers to great dismay that his ideological attitudes vastly differ from those who devoutly worship him.From this angle The Brand New Testament could easily be read as a cynical reflection of contemporary belief complexes, but look between the lines and you see that it carries far greater relevance. Ea’s apostles, who include a reclusive woman and sexually addicted male, consider the troubling realities of the human condition, both personal and societal. And it is through them that the satire takes on an acutely analytical edge.
This one girls quest to inspire and understand is lively and elegant – aided by the classical score and DP Christophe Beaucarne’s dreamlike aesthetic – and asks questions not about the faith we hold in a higher power, but that which we invest in ourselves. A predictable final act may momentarily cloud what is an impressively unpredictable film, but it never diminishes the power of this deeply intelligent and philosophical parable.