Friday, 15 April 2016

REVIEW - THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT (JACO VAN DORMAEL)


Delicious blasphemy, as caustic as they come, until The Brand New Testament gets entangled in its own schematic concerns and begins to betray its purpose. A generous dose of irreverence courses through Jaco van Dormael's film however, ensuring that it's never too far from the good-natured flippancy that fuels it. van Dormael falls back on quirkiness, which is a dangerous ploy, and one which is justified only (though frequently) by smart judgement - Handel and Schubert would be perfect soundtrack selections for any film, though their use here is particularly sweet. And when the quirks combine into surrealism, The Brand New Testament finds the ideal artistic compliment to its comedy, carefree, absurd, delightfully silly. It's an ideal response too, to the inherent absurdities of the Christian faith, which van Dormael and co-writer Thomas Gunzig expose and explain through satirisation as improper and impractical. The narrative conclusion is, narratively, satisfying, though its sudden insertion of feminism (albeit a welcome insertion) feels arbitrary, its exaltation of faith apparently contradictory, even if it's all that might have made sense given the film's plot, or lack thereof. It's that lack that hampers The Brand New Testament, as it bogs itself down in plot points devoid of urgency, rendering certain corners of the film listless, sapping at the vitality that infuses its stronger sections. There remains considerable invention to the filmmaking, but fun turns to frustration, and the film itself is exposed as poorly thought-out. Indeed, in denouncing the doctrines of Christianity, The Brand New Testament inadvertently engages in its dialogues, and fails to acknowledge its responsibility to prove itself more mature than the subject of its mockery. But maturity isn't its strong suit, even as the insightful piece of work that it is. It's shameless, dirty, delicious blasphemy at its rotten old heart, and that's all it needs to be to win me over.