Le Tout Nouveau Testament (The Brand New Testament) – Jaco van Dormael

UnknownJaco van Dormael’s irreverant comedy has an storyline worthy of a superior surrealist mind.  In this new interpretation of The Bible, the Belgian director’s God is a misanthropic, angry, middle-aged man living in a shabby apartment in the Belgian capital, Brussels. It’s so crazy it just might work and yet a promising start is lost in a film brimful of ideas going nowhere.  Fellow countryman, BenoÎt Poelvoorde, works overtime to cover the cracks in a plot which touches on several interesting concepts without ever following through.  Catherine Deneuve shows willing to play against type as a lonely married woman who falls in love with a circus gorilla and François Damiens (La Famille Bélier) is convincing as a would-be assassin who finds his soulmate, a one-armed beautiful young woman, when he tries to pick her off with a shotgun. But what a waste of the wonderful Belgian actress Yolande Moreau (Voyage en Chine) who appears all too briefly as God’s baseball-card collecting wife.  Using religion as a basis for satire is fertile ground, but Van Dorael’s film feels like a great idea gone to waste.

God (Poelvoorde) is not a happy man. His son has left home leaving an empty place at the dinner table, his wife buses herself doing embroidery or sorting through her baseball cards while his daughter Ea’s (Pili Groyne) one desire is to leave the apartment for the outside world. She hates her father who spends his day inventing petto new laws to make the human race as miserable as possible. Laws such as making sure toast always falls butter-side up or the telephone will ring the moment you sink into a hot bath. Ea decides to take revenge on her father by sneaking into his locked study and using his computer to let every human being know the date of their death. She then sets off onto the streets of Brussels to follow the advice of her brother JC and recruit six new Apostles to complement the original 12.  These include sex-addict Marc (Serge Larivière), Martine (Deneuve), one-armed beauty Aurélie (Laura Verlinden), middle-aged bureaucrat Jean-Claude (Didier de Neck), François (Damiens) and the sickly young Willy (Romain Gelin). But will she have time to complete her task before she is tracked down by her enraged father?
Van Dormael’s film is not devoid of comic moments especially in the earlier scenes set in the Brussel’s apartment. For a man who can have anything, God’s computer is an ancient desktop which he doesn’t fully understand. When Ea tampers with the programme, the all-powerful God is as lost and as powerless as most over-50s in the face of today’s tech-savvy youngsters. And human beings were not God’s first choice for populating the planet. He experimented with several species before coming-up with humans – a decision which leads to one of the film’s more arresting sequences of animals wandering Brussel’s deserted streets. Visually van Dorael is not afraid to use influences from several sources. God’s study could be straight from Terry Gilliam’s 1985 cult classic Brazil and the dancing-hand scene is from his own show Kiss and Cry, while the knowledge of the date of death comes from Greek mythology.  Legend has it Cyclops have only one eye because they traded in the other to learn the future and the only future they discovered  was the day of their death. The nature of love, solitude and regret all raise their head. And while the quantity and quality of visual and verbal stimulus is immense, there is little time to digest this information.  The young Belgian actress Groyne stands out amid this stellar cast of actors.  She played Marion Cotillard’s daughter in the Dardenne brother’s Two Days, One Night and is clearly tipped for stardom. Van Dormael is without doubt an original, creative thinker. Ultimately this film tries too hard.

DIRECTOR’S BIO – JACO VAN DORMAELUnknown-1

 2015 Le tout nouveau testament – The Brand New Testament
 2011 Kiss & Cry 
 2009 Mr. Nobody 
 1996 Le huitième jour  – The Eighth Day
 1991 Toto le héros – Toto the Hero

 

 

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