While it may be set in the near future of 2027, the ideals of the sinister, conservative and theocratic state in Gabriel Mascaro’s Divine Love (Divino Amor)’s vision of Brazil runs parallel to that of their current administration. Mascaro upends the tropes of the future dystopia by shooting the film with a focus on bold colours and a sensuous atmosphere, with ecstatic, pulsating electronic music scoring the majority of a film dripping in neon lighting.
The film follows Joana (Dira Paes), a notary who is also a part of a couples therapy group-cum-evangelist sex cult named (what else), Divino Amor. The film embeds itself in Joana’s perspective, showing how easily such strict ideals can fall apart, and Paes is simply excellent as Joana’s faith is pushed to breaking point. The church and state are supposedly separate in this world but the line is thin and porous. Joana is an example of such, as she prevents couples that come to her with divorce papers from separating, inducting them into Divine Amor. From there, trust fall exercises turn into rituals, which turn into orgies, all for the purpose of preserving heterosexual relationships.
The film shares some DNA with The Lobster, with an uncanny, detached feeling hanging over its (many) sensuously shot sex scenes. Like in that film, heterosexual coupling has become an issue of state and evangelism has seeped into every aspect of 21st century life, the most egregious example coming in the form of a Drive Thru Priest. The club is also now a place of worship – DJ Booths light up with messages about God, while priests dressed in neon take to the stage and rapturous masses writhe and praise the lord below.
There’s plenty of disturbing sights in plain view (for starters, buildings gated with bioscanners that detect pregnancy), but the most sinister aspects of this future Brazil lurk at the fringes – with mentions of ‘infidels’ as well implicit suggestions that homosexuality is criminalised. The Brazilian government of this film seeks children, asserting control over and monitoring women’s bodies. Despite the fascinating setup the film’s second half becomes weaker as it reaches for a grand metaphor, and ultimately probably swings too big for its own good. But the rest of the film is potent, and fascinating in how it depicts its regressive dystopian future, trapping you in the point of view of its true believers.
Divine Love was seen and reviewed at Berlinale 2019.