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Review: The Brand New Testament (2016)

The Brand New Testament (2016)

Directed by: Jaco Van Dormael

Premise: God is a cruel and angry man who spends his days controlling life on Earth from a home office and he delights in causing pain and suffering. His ten-year-old daughter flees home with the intention of collecting her own set of apostles and creating a new testament.

What Works: The Brand New Testament is a darkly funny satire of religion and faith. The premise of the movie literalizes what some of us suspect on our worst days—that the Almighty is deliberately making life more difficult. The God of The Brand New Testament is played by Benoît Poelvoorde. The actor relishes the cruelty with which he goes about sabotaging people’s lives in a way that’s reminiscent of Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street films. He lives with a timid wife, played by Yolande Moreau, and his ten-year-old daughter Ea, played by Pili Groyne. The daughter is frustrated by her father’s cruelty and so she hacks into God’s work computer and sends every person on Earth a text message revealing the day and time of their death. This knowledge causes each person to reassess his or her priorities and gives Ea the opportunity to collect a new band of apostles who will create the titular brand new testament. This film is divided into several chapters with each of the new apostles getting a story of their own in which the revelation of their death date causes a crisis that forces these people to change their lives. Some of these stories are realistic, such as the office worker who hates his job, and others are quite bizarre, especially the story of an older woman in a loveless marriage (Catherine Deneuve) who leaves her husband for a gorilla. Despite the wackiness of this movie there is a cogent set of ideas underlining The Brand New Testament. The strange scenario of the story is an effective metaphor of the way many of us imagine our lives and the search for love and human connection runs through everyone’s stories. The film asks where our sense of purpose comes from and how we determine what is right or wrong. The Brand New Testament suggests that happiness and misery are within our ability to control, regardless of whether there is a higher power at work or not, but the film also implies that our disposition depends upon what we perceive our options to be. This film contains a lot to unpack about freedom and happiness and it offers all that while having a sardonic laugh.

What Doesn’t: The Brand New Testament was not made for the faith based audience that turned out for movies like God’s Not Dead. This film is an irreverent comedy that has more in common with Life of Brian and Dogma than it does with The Shack and its notion of God and the hereafter, while certainly inspired by a Christian framework, does not confirm traditional religious ideas. In that respect, there is a missed opportunity in A Brand New Testament. The God in this film is an unredeemable and unlikable character. While that’s a bold creative decision, the filmmakers don’t do much else with God that is interesting. The story is ultimately about the other people, especially God’s daughter and her crew of apostles, but to have God as a character in a film and not do much more than make him a buffoon does seem like squandered potential. The internal logic of this film is fuzzy. In the premise of the story, God has a spouse but it is unclear if she is mortal or another deity and we are left to wonder why such an awful person would even have a family. The conclusion of A Brand New Testament is less interesting than the rest of the picture. That’s partly because the film doesn’t follow through on the darker implications of its premise. Instead, the moviemakers concoct a happy and tidy ending and the conclusion of A Brand New Testament is less challenging than the material that precedes it.

DVD extras: Featurettes, interviews, a short film, and a trailer.

Bottom Line: A Brand New Testament is a weird black comedy. The film does not maximize its premise but it does have a lot in it that is funny and thoughtful. A Brand New Testament is unlikely to play for faith-based viewers looking for a reverent and sentimental story but fans of Life of Brian and Dogma ought to get a kick out of it.

Episode: #638 (March 12, 2017)