by Sherif Awad
Screenwriter Thomas Gunzig and director Jaco Van Dormael are two Belgian-born filmmakers who collaborated in the philosophical yet funny script of The All New Testament, a fantasy and a religious satire that reminds up of early works by writer-director-animator Terry Gilliam including The Meaning of Life (1983) and Brazil (1985) and some of the British Monty Python’s TV sketches and films in which Gilliam also used to collaborate.
Director Jaco Van Dormael was known across Europe with his feature debut Toto, the Hero (1991) that received the Camera D’Or of Cannes Festival that year and also The Eighth Day (1996) for which Daniel Auteuil and Pascal Duquenne shared Best Actor Award in Cannes for portraying the leads. Jaco Van Dormael’s name became familiar in the US with Mr. Nobody (2009) that starred American Oscar-winner actor Jared Leto. The All New Testament debuted in Cannes Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight section last May then it was screened in Karlovy Vary last month in the sections called Horizons where acclaimed films from other festivals are brought.
In The All New Testament, Dormael imagines that God lives in Brussels with a wife and a daughter called Ea but the trio is the typical dysfunctional family. Frustrated by her father’s bad attitude to humankind, Ea sends a global SMS on the internet to everyone on planet earth revealing their dates of death. While each and everyone starts to rethink the way he should live his last days or years, Ea escapes her father’s apartment to seek six new Apostles to help her write an all new testament. A one-armed lonely woman, a sexomaniac , an assassin, a desperate housewife called Martine ,an office worker and a child; Ea convinces each one of them that paradise is here on Earth and not only after death.
For those who are unfamiliar to the previous works in French and Belgian cinema starring Benoît Poelvoorde, who plays God in this film, can imagine comic talents as the Belgian answer to Bill Murray. The ten year-old actress Pili Groyne who plays Ea, God’s daughter, is so secured in her performance, whether when she addresses the viewers or when she is interacting with the rest of the professional cast. The rich yet neglected wife Martine is played by legendary French star Catherine Deneuve who is still active between France and other European companies. Her role in the film pays homage to her early seductive debuts in the late 1960s like Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour yet with more cynic touch.
What’s creative about the script of the film and its accompanying visuals that its funny moments can generate laughs from anyone who is not that well educated in religion and history. Fantasy elements are everywhere and the most creative one is the laundry machine that Ea uses to escape the apartment: it is connected to launderette downstairs yet the journey between the two washing machines is similar to the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Jaco Van Dormael almost works with the same crew every time: Christophe Beaucarne, the film’s cinematographer, was one of his students; makeup artist Katia Van Damme and Sound Engineer Dominique Warner were his collaborators for 35 years. All the objects and backgrounds are reminiscent of classic cinema where drawings of landscapes used to make an alternative for wide shots. Sometimes, the viewers will feel, they are sitting watching a theatrical piece not a feature film. The script also offers many funny surprises and sometimes shocking scenes.
The filmmakers might have a funny take on God and religion but they were constraint to reveal that many of nowadays’ problems should be credited to mankind…