Reviewed by Thyronne Millaud-Director, Gabriel Mascaro’s, Divine Love, is a film with something to say. I’m not one hundred percent sure what it’s trying to say, but I can assure you it’s definitely trying to say something, and it’s saying it in its very own style and voice.
The world he creates inside the film is not much different from our own, but it is. The opening titles are done in the 80’s era neon, the music sounds like something we’ve heard a million times and have quickly forgotten, and the underexposed, superbly composed look of the film very quickly tells us we’re in a dystopian world.
This dystopian world may be closer than we think. It’s set in the very near future and the lives of the people living in it are governed in equal parts by bureaucratic secularism and total theocracy. It’s obviously a comment on the recent rise of conservatism in the world and, in particular, Brasil.
The film open’s on a dance floor in what appears to be a rave. The voice of a young child narrates explaining the story was set in Brazil in 2027, where the popular national celebration of Carnaval had been replaced by The Party of Supreme Love. We watch a couple dancing with abandon as the narration goes on about “redemption of the body” and “vows of eternal Love while waiting for the Messiah to return”.
The couple is Joana (Dira Paes) and her husband Danilo (Julio Machado). He’s a florist working out of their home and she’s some sort of bureaucratic clerk charged with notarizing divorce papers. We discover she has a habit of trying to dissuade couples from going through with the divorce and employs in office amateur marriage counseling subterfuge with red tape and procedures of the legal documents, and finally by introducing them to the Church of Divine Love.
She tells she and her husband had problems and found redemption and harmony in the group through bible study, singing hymns, and wife swapping. There is a carousel of praying and sex scenes that seem to go on a little too long. Joana and Danilo are desperately trying to conceive a child through devout adherence to the methods of Divine Love and any other method they can try including Danilo hanging upside down naked blasting his genitals with infrared light.
Though they seem close as a couple they don’t exactly seem connected and Joana often goes and talks to a preacher at a drive-in church telling him how devout she is and how much they want a child. Even after they go to see a fertility specialist who tells them that Danilo can not give her a child they are determined to try everything they can.
She nearly breaks down at the drive-in church telling the priest she is waiting for a sign from God. When she finally gets the sign she has wished for she is abandoned by everyone and everything.
Paes, as Joana, masterfully takes us on a journey through an uncomfortable world of intense sex scenes, lonely secular workspaces, and bizarre religious rituals. A world that Mascaro has crafted as a potential mirror of what society may look like sooner than we think if certain paths are followed. He doesn’t tell us what to think or how to think but shows us a world that could be and asked us what do we think. When it comes down to it, Mascaro gives us a stylistic modern interpretation of the Mary and Joseph story and leaves us with more questions than answers.
Director: Gabriel Mascaro; Writers: Gabriel Mascaro, Rachel Daisy Ellis, Esdras Bezerra, Lucas Paraizo & Marcelo Gomes; Country: Brazil; Language: Portuguese with English subtitles; Running Time: 101 min.; Unrated, includes nudity and sexual depictions
Released in partnership with Strand Releasing, Divine Love will not be on other streaming platforms until after February 2021.