by Cat McAlpine
In the near future, Brazil is under Evangelical leadership. Middle-aged Joana, a devout believer in both Jesus and bureaucracy, is doing the lord’s work as a notary. This gives her plenty of opportunities to convince clients filing for divorce to instead join her couples-only cult and save their marriages.
Writer/Director Gabriel Mascaro paints a visceral picture in Divine Love with long sex scenes, full frontal nudity, and even a graphic hospital scene. But all the flesh we see feels distant and unnatural, illuminated by neon lights, sometimes clouded by haze, and always caught in rituals of necessity.
In 2027, the most important characteristics for women are their marital status and their pregnancy status, brightly displayed on the screens of “detectors” when they pass into buildings. And what Joana (Dira Paes) wants more than anything is to have a child. She and her husband Danilo (Julio Machado) are trying everything they can to conceive, and the process has Joana frequenting her local drive-thru pastor (Emílio de Mello).
Mascaro and co-writer Rachel Daisy Ellis don’t tell you how to feel about religion, even the future’s sexy, club-going, drive-thru version. Instead, they focus on exploring Joana’s own journey of faith.
At one point, her drive-thru pastor urges Joana that he can help her go through the motions of repentance, even if she doesn’t feel guilty. She assures him she regrets nothing, but women’s position seems worse in this new age. The same way that “Divorced” flashes over some heads, “Guilty” seems to flash over Joana’s, despite her protestations. Her faith remains constant.
The biggest conflict of Divine Love is Joana’s interior faith versus the faith of those around her. Everything she does is in complete alignment with her belief system, but it doesn’t save her from being judged or from losing the things most precious to her. “Faith doesn’t need to be tested,” a voiceover muses, but Joana seems to be tested at every turn.
Visually, the film is a marvel. I’m a sucker for lighting and Mascaro delivers from hazy pink rooms to natural light making gorgeous silhouettes. He paints good vignettes too, interspersing the narrative with pretty pictures, like the notary staff lazing on the lawn at lunch-time, tangled up in each other.
Shocking and beautiful, Divine Love is worth the watch even if its conclusion leaves you with more questions than answers.