by Rivka Yeker
Jaco Van Dormael’s latest film The Brand New Testament explores the overlap of fantastical realism, dark comedy, and existentialist thought. The result of these concepts clashing is an exceptionally witty and enjoyable film about God. In The Brand New Testament, God lives in Brussels, Belgium, in a high-rise apartment that he never leaves. He controls the world through an isolated PC in a room that no one is allowed to go in. He is abusive towards his wife and daughter Ea, and his son Jesus Christ, or JC, is now a small statue resting in the family’s home.
The film follows the narrative of Ea, as she rebels against her father and releases everyone’s death dates straight to their cell phones. As news breaks out about the times of people’s deaths, Ea decides that she is going to rewrite the New Testament and confides in her brother JC to figure out how to go about it. He tells her to choose apostles and that it doesn’t matter if they are random because nobody will know. Ea selects her new set of apostles from her father’s cabinets filled with cards representing every human alive on earth. After deciding on her six new apostles, she makes her way down to Earth, where she meets a homeless man who will be her scribe in creating the Brand New Testament.
The film’s style is heavily influenced by Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie (2001), everyone’s favorite whimsical French love story. While The Brand New Testament is by no means solely a love story, there are many stories woven throughout the film. It focuses on the lives of each of the apostles, and as mundane and standard as they are, they become quite enthralling with the help of Ea. She brings light into their somewhat dim existences, reminding them that their life will one day end and that they should fulfill the desires they wish to achieve.
The Brand New Testament is a rich experience, one that not necessarily questions God’s existence, but laughs along with it and the ridiculousness of life itself. It is a film that asks a whole lot of why not? Meaning it makes the moves it wants to make and doesn’t seek for approval, because it understands its own absurdity. It goes where it wants to go and never takes itself too seriously. Enjoyable to watch, funny, and loaded with a talented cast, The Brand New Testament reintroduces what it means to examine and comment on a universal thought while managing to maintain a zany dream-like world that we all sometimes find ourselves wishing to live in.