The Brand New Testament

Director: Jaco Van Dormael.
Screenplay: Jaco Van Dormael, Thomas Gunzig.
Starring: Benoît Poelvorde, Pili Groyne, Catherine Denueve, Yolande Moreau, François Damiens, Serge Larivière, Laura Verlinden, Didier De Neck, Marco Lorenzini, Romain Gelin, Anna Tenta, Johan Heldenbergh, David Murgia.

“Law 1522: If one day you fall in love with a woman there’s a great chance you will not spend your life with her”

Although not exactly a household name, I’ve been a huge fan of Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael for some time. Unfortunately, he has only made a handful of films, though, and there is often long periods inbetween. That said, when one arrives it’s always worth the wait and you are guaranteed something a little a different and often very imaginative and inventive. His latest in The Brand New Testament, once again, delivers on that expectation. 

Plot: God is alive and well and lives in present-day Belgium as he meddles in the personal affairs of his human subjects. He’s not very good at his job, though, so his young, opinionated daughter decides to take over and create a better, more positive, world. She descends to earth in search of 6 messengers to write a Brand New Testament with God in hot persuit to thwart her ambitions.

Before venturing into the world of filmmaking, Jaco Van Dormael actually persued a career as a circus clown and rejoiced in working with children. It’s this very playfulness and joi d’vuevre that’s channeled in his approach to telling a story and The Brand New Testament is another wonderful film that’s filled to the brim with such creativity and flair that it’s hard to fully capture or explain how joyful it is. The best way to draw comparison would be to mention it in the same capacity as Jean-Pierre Juenet’s delightful French film, Amelie. There are many similarities in terms of its structure, it’s humour and the way it introduces its colourful cast of characters. As Amelie is one of my all-time favourite films, it will be no surprise to hear that I absolutely adored Van Dormael’s film too.

The rewriting of the New Testament is such a genius concept and Van Dormael’s execution of it is genuinely hilarious with beautifully judged surreal moments: to begin with, God is depicted as a malevolent piece of shit, who is abusive to his wife and children and prefers to create new laws and hardships for people so he can revel in their suffering. Of course, God had a son in Jesus but he’s only ever referenced as “J.C.” and is nowhere to be found after having failed at assembling his apostles. Turns out J.C. wasn’t an only child, though. God also has a 10 year old daughter, Ea, who decides to assemble her own apostles and rewrite a “Brand New Testament”. To do so, she first hacks into God’s computer and reveals to every individual on Earth when they can (exactly) expect to die. This causes havoc amongst society and people begin to approach their lives in vastly different ways – with one even attempting suicide on many occasions only for him to, knowingly, (and repeatedly) escape the clutches of death as his preordained expiration date has yet to come. We also have Catherine Denueve’s lonely housewife who is so starved of any meaningful connection in her life, that she falls in love with a gorilla and enters into a relationship with it – leading to the films most hilarious scene when her husband walks in on them post coitus. There’s also a sexual deviant who finds that he has a talented voice that will make him money to which he chooses to dub over porno films. Even the way that God has to travel to earth, he has to do so via a washing machine drum that exits into a laundrette where he is met by a petrified woman who pepper sprays him in the face. There really is no end to the entertainment value and the wealth of ideas this film has. As mentioned earlier, it’s difficult to fully explain what Van Dormael manages to capture here but it’s certainly worthy of far more attention than it’s received.

Those of a religious persuasion may deem this to be sacrilegious but I, on the hand, thought it an intelligent, metaphysical satire that plays havoc with centuries of religious/Christian beliefs and principles – while also taking a mischievous stab at patriarchy and how different the world would be with female empowerment. There’s a plethora of excellent scenes and hilarious characters throughout Van Dormael’s riotously enjoyable black comedy and he delivers it with such playfulness that it’s hard not to be swept along with its creative enthusiasm.

Mark Walker

Trivia: Director Jaco Van Dormael has a cameo as the man who is killed by a bus after getting the message that he has only seconds to live.

21 Responses to “The Brand New Testament”

  1. It is a brilliant satire with lots of dark humour. I am not sure how a film of this kind may be viewed by the public though, as you need to be very open-minded for that, but…. nevermind. I absolutely loved it! More than Mr. Nobody.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice one, man. Glad to hear from another fan. I thought it was outstanding. Thoroughly entertaining and genuinely hilarious. I’m a huge fan of Amelie so this was right up my street.
      I loved Mr. Nobody too but, yeah, I enjoyed this more. Dormael’s not made a bad film yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My favorite film of his is still Mr.Nobody, but also thought this was a very interesting movie to watch. Like you say it is very playful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Nostra. How are you sir?
      Yeah, I really liked Mr. Nobody too but I’d say this is probably the most entertaining Van Dormael has been. Mr. Nobody was more of a ponderer but this was more like his earlier Toto The Hero in its playfulness.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m doing pretty good and have been a little more active lately on My Filmviews (focus has been more on the Dutch version of the site)…did way too little. Planning to pick it up more and make sure that the English version is up to date with my Dutch one. Am still months behind, but quickly trying to make up for it by translating several reviews each day.

        Yeah, they are different type of movies. I just love the concept of Mr.Nobody so much.

        Haven’t seen Toto the Hero yet, so I should check that one out.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good to hear, man. I must swing by your site. I’ve been very tardy in my visitations of late. I’ve not been networking the way I used to. I just don’t have the same time anymore. But like yourself, I’ve been meaning to do more Foreign Language stuff. I’ve let that part of my blog as well.

        Yeah, Mr.Nobody is a real noodle scratcher. I loved the concept too.

        I would recommend Toto the Hero and The Eighth Day. Another two delights from Van Dormael.


      • Yeah, I haven’t been as active in the English community as I used to and blogging in general has kind of changed as well when you look at the numbers. I don’t mind though as I still enjoy it, but I do kind of miss that interaction as it used to be (guess I’m slowly starting to sound like an old man).

        Will try to check those out!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I feel the exact same way, man. Too many of the old crowd packed it in and the new breed have a different agenda. I miss the old days too. Like you, I just post for fun now. I use my blog as a little film diary now.


      • So I’m not alone in feeling like that. Although I might not always respond I still read your posts and am still subscribed 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • No you’re not alive at all, Nostra. Things have definitely changed. It’s not the same at all. When I just started blogging it was really vibrant and everyone was buzzing with enthusiasm. It was a pure joy and I was addicted to it. Then it just all stemmed to trickle away as if the bubble burst. Too many great bloggers lost their mojo and the blogosphere hasn’t been the same since.


      • I am alive! 😉

        For the last two years I’ve been focussing on creating a community for the Dutch movie bloggers and I managed to get that feeling from that (created and organised some meetups). But have been noticing there as well that people slowly are starting to respond a lot less, but I’m trying to keep that going.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha! I just realised the typo here.

        Yeah, my blog certainly doesn’t get the level of interaction that it was once got but I’m okay with that. In past, I placed a lot of importance on stats but I don’t really care now. I’m still happy posting even if no-one reads.


      • Yeah, the number of views I get is only 10% of what it once was and mostly for old posts I’ve written. I won’t say that I don’t care if no one reads what I write, but like you the statistics aren’t what drive me at all. Still…remeniscing about the good old days 😉

        I’ve sent you the info by the way, so let’s get this relay race going! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, this looks good.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. After hearing the same Christmas songs ad nauseam, I will turn to this dark film as a kind of rebellion with eagerness. I love ‘Amelie’ and think I’d enjoy this one, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Do you still have the same email address? Have sent you something, which I hope you’re up for…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I saw Amelie about a decade ago, time for a rewatch! And you are so spot on here, this just has so many ideas and really is a great satire on religion. I think you’re right on how it shows what it’d be like with more female empowerment. Another one I need to rewatch, goddamn they are stacking up

    Liked by 1 person

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