Brand New Testament film review: a blasphemous blast

God goes missing in the great comedy The Brand New Testament

Catherine Deneuve invites a gorilla into her boudoir in The Brand New Testament

A grand, gleefully silly and surprisingly tender satirical fantasy adventure that posits the question, ‘what if women ruled the world?’ The Brand New Testament is the fantastic tale of a ten-year-old girl named Ea (Pili Groyne), who when sick of her father (aka God)’s ways, decides to reboot the world by sending everyone the date of their death, escaping through the washing machine at her apartment and going on a quest through Brussels to find six new apostles.

Belgian filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael playfully brings to life Marilyn Monroe’s famous words that “imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring” with a delightful concept that is executed with style, humour and emotional intelligence.

He draws together an exquisite cast, including Catherine Deneuve (Persepolis) as a heartbroken wife who takes a gorilla for a lover, and Marco Lorenzini (Brotherhood Of Tears) as a dyslexic homeless man tasked with writing the New Testament.

There’s both deep poignancy and knowingness in this telling of a new world order that can perhaps be best described as Stranger Than Fiction meets Dogma via Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Surreal images such as an ostrich wandering through a supermarket or a detached hand doing ballet across the screen while chaos ensues abound.

But mostly this is a story about adults full of sadness who have lost their sense of wonderment. A feeling of hope also comes from the introduction of a young boy who wants to live as a girl. Van Dormael gives the viewer a great villain who gets his comeuppance by putting an entitled, horrid rule-maker (God, played in a superbly haughty fashion by Benoit Poelvoorde) in his place by making him experience life from the other side.

Told from a bright-eyed childlike perspective through Ea’s narration, this story of human connection and empathy takes on an animated and lively form that entertains and enlightens in equal measure.