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Reviews

Iona/The Club/The Brand New Testament

Jeremy Clarke

Iona
Directed by Scott Graham
Cert 15, 85 mins

The Club
Directed by Pablo Larraín
Cert 18, 98 mins

The Brand New Testament
Directed by Jaco Van Dormael
Cert 15, 113 mins

 

Scots writer-director Graham has an eye for isolated landscapes, evidenced both in his evocative first feature Shell and here. Teenage son Bull (Ben Gallagher) in tow, troubled Iona (Ruth Negga) returns to the island after which she was named (and on which the film's exteriors were shot) and its Christian community in which she grew up under the care of surrogate father Daniel (Douglas Henshall) alongside Daniel's daughter Elizabeth (Michelle Duncan), who now has her own teenage daughter. The latter, Sarah (Sorcha Groundsell), is a paraplegic who has to be carried on the shoulders of Elizabeth's husband Matthew (Tom Brooke). Iona lost her faith during her teenage years and harbours secrets in her past, but whether or not she now believes in God is a moot point. An effective study in how relationships between providers and dependents can go horribly wrong over successive generations.

Chile's Pablo Larraín (whose superb No detailed the referendum on Pinochet) turns his attention to the Catholic Church with The Club's seaside retirement home for disgraced priests. Father Silva (Jaime Vadell) works the gardens, Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro) is devoted to his greyhound, Father Ramírez (Alejandro Sieveking) is near catatonic. The uneasy equilibrium of the home run by the disarming Sister Mónica (Antonia Zegers) is upset when a newly arrived priest is harassed by unemployed, former charge Sandokan (Roberto Farías) who has followed him through several towns, causing the priest to shoot himself in the head. 'Vatican bureaucrat' Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso) is brought in to investigate, but the residents fear his true agenda may be to close the home. A bleak picture of the Catholic priesthood in which everyone is looking after their own interests under the guise of serving the Church.

The idea of God being an utter bastard sounds theologically none too edifying, yet in the hands of Flemish director Jaco Van Domael (Toto the Hero, The Eighth Day) that's not the case. It's whimsical in the same way as Ralph Richardson playing the bumbling Supreme Being around at the end of Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits. Empty, present day Brussels replaces the Garden of Eden where Adam wanders around nude save for a black rectangular special effect covering his privates to meet Eve (her name tag) behind a deserted cafeteria counter. Much begatting extends their family. Grumpy old man God (Benoît Poelvoorde) writes rules for creation on his study computer, e.g. another queue always moves faster than the one you're in. His son, as we know, went off to garner twelve disciples and four testaments. His timid, much put upon wife (Yolande Moreau) is a baseball fan who thinks there were six disciples too few, eighteen being the number of players in a baseball team. Ten year old daughter Éa (Pili Groyne) revolts, sends text messages telling each person how long they have to live, locks God's computer screen then escapes into creation via a tunnel from the washing machine to a launderette to seek her own six disciples and gospel writer.

Despite much (not very explicit) sex - including Catherine Deneuve leaving her boring husband for a zoo gorilla - and a little violence (a serial killer in love with one of his targets), it's all highly inventive and utterly charming if theologically incorrect, with nothing I personally wouldn't want a ten year old to see. All this, plus the suggestion that a loving God might, in fact, be female.