God (Benoît Poelvoorde) is Belgian and a nasty piece of work. He runs our meagre existence from a rundown block of flats while living with his downtrodden wife (Yolande Moreau) – who’s actually a goddess – and rebellious young daughter Ea (Pili Groyne). To add to matters, his son, Jesus Christ, has gone and got himself crucified, though communicates still with Ea as a statute in her room.
Ea decides it’s time to set matters straight and stop her controlling, bigoted, vicious slob of a father from doing any more mischief or harm. She will find another six apostles to take the number to 18 – the number of players in her mother’s beloved sports game – while causing chaos on Dad’s computer. Ea ‘falls’ to Earth via her family washing machine to find an assortment of contenders; one a natural born killer, another a lonely woman (Deneuve) who falls in love with a gorilla.
The Brand New Testament has that vinaigrette-wash, subdued cinematic hue of Delicatessen (1991) in God’s apartment, combined with the cuteness of character of Amélie (2001) when little Ea is in frame, and the eccentricity of Mood Indigo (2013) for the sheer imaginative lunacy. It is your very typical Gallic comedy farce with delightfully touching moments of nuttiness. The trouble is, while bathing in its absurdity and religious analogy, it never feels like it really transcends to any great heights – to knock on the pearly gates, so to speak. Rather, it keeps you satisfactorily tittering along the way.
The film is part-divided up into chapters of the six new disciples, giving ample screen time and detail to each. This is done in the usual fashion of the character being introduced on camera first, before the narrator lays bare their situation. Far from breaking up continuity, this method keeps things intriguing and controlled, allowing the unique madness of each character’s situation to pour forth – while Ea watches on.
The acting cannot be faulted. It’s young Groyne as Ea who is tasked with linking the tale’s elements and keeping interest brewing – and she does this as effectively as she can. Poelvoorde is utterly vile as God, misogynistic and motor-mouthed and always deserving of his mortal punishments. Amélie’s Moreau does ‘half-baked’ exceptionally well – as ever. Deneuve is as poised and picture-perfect as usual, so it’s wonderfully amusing to witness this former aloof screen siren self-mock while in the arms of a horny primate.
The Brand New Testament feels like a big box of frogs while breaking religious satirical taboo. It’s very liberating in fact. Even though the finale is a colourful, hallucinogenic one, there just seems to be a missing element to link the apostles’ scenarios with the concluding scenes. Thankfully, their chapters contain enough substance to mask this fact.