* * * Spoiler Alert * * *
It is a relief to know that imaginative cinema is still being produced. This review has been delayed again and again because I wanted it to make a great presentation. But when all is said and done, this film speaks for itself.
Le Tout Nouveau Testament (The Brand New Testament, 2015) takes a comical and disarmingly irreverent look at the effects that a male deity, namely God, has had on humanity. For those paying close attention, this film is a statement for the need to transform Western society into one that embraces a more feminine concept of deity.
Much has been said about the Son of God—referred to as J.C. in this film—but not the Daughter, who serves as the narrator. Her name is Ea (Pili Groyne) and has suffered under the tyranny of her father’s house for 10 years.
Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (1)
She tells us that God lives in Brussels and that he is an asshole—lavishing abuse on his wife, “Goddess”, and Ea. He doesn’t seem to respect her space and just barges in on her whenever he pleases.
Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (2)
The family lives in a house with no entrance or exit. Goddess dares not speak out of turn and does nothing but embroidery and collect baseball cards (totaling 18). Even though J.C. has not returned home since his execution on Earth, Goddess sets a place for him at the dinner table—at God’s right hand, of course.
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Everyone in the family has supernatural powers except for God and Ea annoys her father with a little telekinesis at the table. God controls his creation through a computer terminal from his office, forbidding entry by anyone else. Being an impotent figure, he takes delight in causing the beings made in his own image to suffer. He creates a set of rules that seem to conform to Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The “laws” appear throughout the film as running gags, for example: when a person gets in the tub, the phone will ring; the other line is always faster; a dropped piece of toast always falls buttered side down; a piece of pottery will break only after it has just been cleaned.
Ea sneaks into her father’s office to see what he has been up to. She is horrified to see how cruel he is to human beings.
Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (4)
When she confronts him about this, he realizes she has been in his office and he beats her. She vows revenge and escape and consults her brother about what to do. Unbeknownst to the others, there is a figurine of J.C. that can come to life so Ea can converse with him.
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Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (6)
He explains that the idea for the 12 Apostles was father’s simply because he liked hockey. It turned out to be a real mess and so perhaps it would be better to add 6 more to make it 18, Goddess’ favorite number. J.C. tells her how she can escape to Earth, but before she departs, she sneaks into the office again and instructs the computer to give human beings knowledge of the exact time they are going to die and then lock her father out of the system so he can’t change it back. The premise is that God’s only power over people is through their ignorance. If they know too much, they may take matters into their own hands and live the lives they want. And thus Ea has her exodus, tunneling her way to Earth.
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Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (8)
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Another one of the problems J.C. and Ea wanted to avoid was the way people tend to misrepresent the message thus causing endless disputes. Ea decides this new testament will not mention her at all, but document the wisdom of the 6 apostles she chooses. Ea never learned to write, so the first person she runs into, a dyslexic bum called Victor, is recruited as her scribe.
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There are a few amusing scenes showing how this knowledge has wracked havoc on people’s lives. For example, there is the daredevil Kevin, who broadcasts the craziest stunts that manage miraculously not to kill him since he is supposed to live another 62 years. Other scenes show the resentment of children dying before their parents, one spouse before the other or caregivers before their bedridden charges.
Ea’s first disciple is Aurélie, a beautiful woman who never seems to connect with any of the men around her. When she was 7, she had a freak accident in a subway and lost her left arm. She now wears a prosthesis made of silicone. As she tells her story, Ea collects her tears in a vial and explains that she does this in part because she is unable to cry herself. She also informs each of them that they have a special music associated with them and she is able to hear it. Aurélie’s is a piece by Händel and, parenthetically, the musical score throughout the film is quite stunning.
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The second is Jean-Claude, an adventurer in his youth who has since squandered his time climbing the corporate ladder. Upon learning his death date, he quit his job and became lured into one last adventure northward by a flock of birds. His music is by Rameau. He is the only one who does not stay with the group but wanders off right away after telling his story.
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By this time, God realizes what Ea has done and, not being competent enough to solve the computer problem, decides to follow her to Earth to get her to fix what she did. His emergence out of a wet and soapy washing machine is very suggestive of a birth scene. Forgetting that he has no powers, he has a miserable time. People beat him up and in his cranky arrogance, he continues making things worse for himself.
The third apostle is Marc who considers himself a sex maniac. His most vivid erotic memory took place when he was 9. He was digging at a beach and this amazing German girl appeared in a turquoise bikini. He never forgot the look she gave him, a combination of interest and disgust. His music is from Purcell and when he learned his death date, he decided to take all his money and spend it all by the time he died. However, he miscalculated and ran out a bit early. Ea tells him he has a beautiful voice and he decides to earn some money by doing voice overs for adult films. Next to him playing the female role is that same German girl, all grown up and they are reunited.
Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (13)
In the deities’ home is the famous da Vinci painting The Last Supper and Goddess begins to notice new figures appearing every time Ea recruits someone new.
The next disciple is François whose calling was to be an assassin. He has killed countless insects and a number of small pets belonging to his cousin. He is married with a son but there is no love there. When he learns his death date, he decides to buy a rifle and start shooting at people. The rationale is that if he misses, it was not their time, if not, he was simply doing God’s will. François’ music is Schubert’s Death and the Maiden—what else?—and Ea comments that this music goes well with the Händel. She does a little matchmaking and tells him to shoot the next girl that comes along.
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It turns out to be Aurélie, who is hit in her fake arm and does not even notice that anything has happened. Fascinated by this miracle, François follows her and finds himself falling in love. She eventually accepts him and gets him to give up his murderous ways.
Martine is a woman with a romantic disposition who has been married to a well-to-do man who seems unmoved by her short life expectancy. He leaves on a business trip, letting her deal with this crisis on her own. When she tells her story to Ea, she is told that her music is circus music. They visit the circus and come upon a gorilla in a cage. Martine and the beast form a mysterious emotional connection and she pays for “his” release, allowing him to live in her house.
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When God finally tracks down Ea, he demands that she set things right, but she is not intimidated by him anymore. She and Victor escape by walking on the water to cross a canal. Her father is dismayed to learn that he cannot do the same. He is rescued from drowning, but because he has no papers, he is housed with Uzbeki refugees and eventually deported.
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The last apostle is a boy named Willy (Romain Gelin). His mother, sensing that he was a sickly boy, gave him injections which severely damaged his liver. By the time Ea meets him, he has only one week left. Out of guilt, his parents tell him they will let him do whatever he wants and he decides he wants to be a girl—perhaps an homage to Ma Vie en Rose. Willy’s music is La Mer by Charles Trenet.
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This meeting is a personal revelation for Ea and she explains to Willy how her father made everything miserable for people and that she wants to fix it. The youngsters have a kind of whirlwind romance, sharing fine meals together, dancing etc. Given the few days left to Willy, they decide to treat each day as though it were a month—calling the days of the week January, February, March, etc.
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Willy decides he wants to spend his last day at the seaside and is joined by the other characters who show their support by waiting with him.
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Meanwhile, with the absence of her husband, Goddess begins to get control over the house again, cleaning and fixing up the place. Going into her husband’s office to vacuum, she unplugs the computer so that when it is plugged in again, the system reboots. She begins to make changes to Earth to suit her taste and Willy is saved from death that day. Ea, observing the various and sudden changes, realizes they are her mother’s doing and looks up in gratitude.
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This whole business of adding apostles is symbolic of the main theme of the film: that a corrupt male-dominated world will change or should change into a happier and compassionate female one.