Monday, December 5, 2016

THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT: Jaco Van Dormael's best film since Toto the hero

Jaco Van Dormael, that visual master of prestidigitation and whimsy, is back -- with a "religious" movie that is not merely irreverent but downright nasty (deservedly so: we're talking god here), smart, angry, romantic, charming, funny, feminist, and philosophical, too. It is also a major delight from start to finish.

M. Van Dormael (perhaps I should not being using the abbreviation for Monsieur, but the movie is spoken partially in French), shown at left, the Belgian filmmaker who has given us at least two marvelous movies -- Toto The Hero and Mr. Nobody -- has now provided a kind of trilogy of world-class amazements with his latest work, THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT, via which we learn that god is alive and unwell mentally and living in Brussels, with his beleaguered wife and angry, adolescent daughter.

God is also a power-hungry, nasty fanatic who likes to screw things up and set rules (a number of which we learn) designed to gum up everything from mankind's fondest hopes to its smallest endeavors. And, yes, he works via computer. That he is played by the consummate actor, Benoît Poelvoorde (above), just adds to the fun.

When that daughter (the pert and pugnacious Pili Groyne, above, right, and below (the fabulous actress Yolande Moreau plays mom, above, center) decides to do something about her dad's decadent reign, the plot takes off and doesn't stop until the guy is put in his place and the world can maybe begin again. Under new management.

How we get there proves all the fun, and this also allows Van Dormael to let loose with his full arsenal of too-much-ness. If ever a movie called for this kind of over-the-top whimsical style, it's The Brand New Testament, and the writer/director goes at it full-throttle. What he comes up with is too good to give away. You'll have to see the movie to experience the full fun.

Suffice it to say that we'll meet not only the daughter's more-famous brother -- a certain Jesus fellow -- but also a new round of "disciples" (above) that include -- as did the earlier ones, I suspect -- just your average, problemed guys with, this time around, some gals added to the ever-bubbling mix.

Among the latter is that French icon Catherine Deneuve (in background, above, and second from right, two photos above), as game as ever and here to be found in bed with a gorilla -- and, no, I do not mean Gérard Depardieu in his macho nutcase mode -- but the real thing. Each of the new disciples, you see, is afflicted with a rather desperate human need, which our good daughter and her brand new testament can heal.

In the midst of all the invention here is a dream sequence featuring a disembodied hand doing a lovely dance that helps another of those disciples (Laura Verlinden, above) with her own physical limitation. Van Dormael's past use of whimsy has, I think, alienated certain critics. Here, however, they may find themselves in the fold, due to the director's ability to make that whimsy unusually pointed, meaningful and rich -- and, in the case of Ms Verlinden's character, exquisitely moving.

Simply on the basis of another small but choice character named Kevin -- who, each time he turns up, makes us guffaw anew -- The Brand New Testament is a must. Do stay and view the entire end credits to enjoy Kevin's final visit. (That's yet another fine and famous Belgian actor, François Damiens, above, playing a disciple with a killer instinct.)

The movie -- one more gem (along with The Innocents, Francofonia and Monster With a Thousand Heads) to be released this year by Music Box Films -- in French and German with English subtitles, runs 114 minutes. In terms of length, this comes in about halfway between Toto and Nobody. Where whimsy is concerned, shorter, I think, is generally better. The film opens this Friday, December 9, in New York City (at The Landmark Sunshine Cinema), Los Angeles (at the Landmark NuArt) and South Florida: in Miami at the MDC Tower Theater, in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters, and in Fort Lauderdale at the Gateway Theater. Over the weeks to come the film will open in another 36 cities. To view them all, simply click here and then click on THEATERS in the task bar midway down the screen.

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