In a nutshell: The Brand New Testament is a shamelessly silly, mostly benign revenge-on-God fantasy that touches on Big Questions of mortality, but plays primarily for laughs.
Who hasn’t fantasised about transferring the sorts of controls we take for granted in the computer world to the real one? Tree in the wrong place? Cut and paste to a preferred position. Arsehole neighbours? All it takes is a bit of click and drag to swap them for someone else in the street you like. Too hot? Select winter from your software options and voila. Like playing God…
It’s not such a leap of imagination in the digital age, then, to have God hunched over a computer in his family apartment in Brussels, gleefully inflicting mean mischief on the world outside when he’s not botching his creations. That’s the basic premise behind The Brand New Testament – God as an incompetent and irascible computer geek.
He’s also a fag-puffing tyrannical slob who abuses his family, reduced since the loss of his famous Son to a dippy, meek wife (Yolande Moreau) and his resentful 12-year-old daughter Ea (Pili Groyne – endearing, with attitude), whom he takes to with a strap in a fit of pique. Ea wreaks vengeance by sneaking into his computer room and releasing the death dates of everyone on the planet, which they receive via their mobile phones.
To add insult to injury and encouraged by bro Jesus, an icon on the mantlepiece who assumes animated form while advising her, she escapes to the outside world via a portal in a washing machine, and sets about writing a brand new Testament with the assistance of a hobo she appoints as her scribe. As she explores the world outside she gathers a motley crew of five other unlikely Apostles, including a compulsive killer, and an elderly woman – played by Catherine Deneuve – who leaves her husband for a gorilla.
But God ain’t taking Ea’s insubordination lying down. Flinging himself into the washing machine portal in a rage, he sets out after her.
If you’re thinking it all sounds pretty silly, of course you’re right. And although it might present as far out and wacky, the narrative builds from one cohesive element: the release of the death dates and their influence on people’s attitude and behaviour. One young daredevil reappears throughout in a running gag, taunting his mortality in the knowledge that something, somehow, will prevent him dying before his due date – throwing himself out of high windows, skydiving without a parachute…you get the idea.
Amusing enough, but far more could have been made of the setup. The film does not venture far from the merely fanciful. It is propelled by an underlying imaginative excitement, but without any accompanying incisive thought. The result is a philosophically lightweight extended skit built for laughs, rather than an investigation into how mortality defines humanity, or how precise awareness of our longevity might alter our essential nature in ways other than the trivial and zany. Comedy works best when it tackles the serious stuff.
Further, the filmmakers have no real subversive intent, content to poke a bit of mostly benign fun at God and religion without risking inviting the wrath of the righteous upon them. Irreverence without real edge, in other words.
In the end, whether you go with it and have a riotous good time throughout or end up shrinking back as I did, faintly bored, depends on whether the humour works for you. Gotta say, Python did it so much better.
2015-16 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Somerville: 18-24 Jan, 8pm
Joondalup Pines: 26-31 Jan, 8pm
Movie website: en.unifrance.org/movie/39407/the-brand-new-testament
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