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August 2016

The Brand New Testament

cast: Pili Groyne, Benoit Poelvoorde, Catherine Deneuve, Yolande Moreau, and Laura Verlinden

director: Jaco Van Dormael

113 minutes (15) 2015
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2

RATING: 9/10
review by Donald Morefield

The Brand New Testament

How do filmmakers depict God on screen? Casting choices for the Almighty might not be obvious. In the comedy-fantasy trilogy launched by director Carl Reiner's Oh, God! (1977), the creator of the world is played by American comedian George Burns. Terry Gilliam's more overtly fantastical and marvellous adventure, Time Bandits (1981), features a Supreme Being portrayed, very wittily, by renowned British actor Ralph Richardson. More recently, Tom Shadyac's Bruce Almighty (2003), and its sequel, Evan Almighty (2007), draws remarkable value from Morgan Freeman playing a contemporary God, while Ridley Scott's magnificently spectacular biblical epic, Exodus: Gods And Kings (2014) casts a young boy as the mysterious deity who talks to Moses.

Directed by Jaco Van Dormael, The Brand New Testament sees God named Dieu (Belgian actor Benoit Poelvoorde, the hitman in Man Bites Dog), a terrible slob who lives with his crushingly dysfunctional family in supernaturally enabled seclusion, depicted as a dingy flat in Brussels. God's wife never speaks, and his rebellious daughter Ea (wonderfully played by Pili Groyne) longs to escape from domestic captivity and her father's petty tyranny into the cold grey streets of planet Earth. She manages this by climbing into the washer and fixing its controls like a teleportation portal, so she emerges inside a launderette in a bizarrely funny scene that's visually similiar to the appearance of the witch in Japanese mystery horror, Ring (aka: Ringu, 1998), who crawls out of a TV set.

Gifted with psychic powers, Ea begins her mission to track down six disciples, to help write a new set of gospels, and this amusingly unholy work forms the basis for plenty of comedy, satirical sketches about morality and ethics, and the glory and pitfalls of a common humanity. Bursting with episodes of tragic biography, moments of sublime humour, plenty of melancholic musings, and the skewering of pseudo-intellectualism with simple truths, The Brand New Testament is an excellent cinematic fantasy, with many scenes worthy of its Oscar nomination. Ea's apostles are an odd bunch of social misfits, but their stories combine universal appeal with a characteristic piquancy.

The apparently doomed human quest for happiness that everyone can relate to is only one aspect of this emotive fable that makes it essential viewing. Its unsubtle blasphemy is actually quite restrained, while the main plot engine - concerning everyone's advance knowledge of their own death, which prompts so much rethinking of life and personal destiny - somehow develops into a kind of Euro Disney happy daze fantasy-adventure but without any of the American studio's typical failings of twee sentimentalism.



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