The Movie Waffler First Look Review - DIVINE LOVE | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - DIVINE LOVE

divine love review
In a near future Brazil, a woman who is employed to dissuade couples from divorcing grapples with her own marriage problems.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Gabriel Mascaro

Starring: Dira Paes, Julio Machado, Teca Pereira

divine love poster

The shimmering thrills of Divine Love’s (director/writer: Gabriel Mascaro, with Rachel Daisy Ellis, Esdras Bezerra, Lucas Paraizo and Marcelo Gomes) opening credits, with its neon colours and pulsing soundtrack, situate the audience for a contemporary narrative based within a nocturnal, pensive world of sexual relations and meticulous social order. As we cut to the opening sequence of a huge disco set in the year 2027 - lasers, dry ice, umpteen beautiful young revellers having it large (your socially isolated heart will soar) - we are privy to this world’s futuristic decadence. And then, as we hone in on its central character - Joana, played by Dira Paes in an empathetic performance - we see the seemingly incongruous regulations which otherwise define this science-fiction Brazil.

divine love review

Framed within visually striking sequences of infinite shelves filled with box files, Joana is a bureaucrat whose day job consists of convincing (the urgent verb is operative: she is no therapist) unhappily married couples to stick it out. Joana is a full-on marriage evangelist, whose seemingly solid matrimonial union is marred by the absence of children. Fortunately, help is at hand with the church of Divine Love, a culty Christian group who when they aren’t reciting the beautiful love poetry of Corinthians they are having group sex; structured bacchanals where partners are swapped back and forth within the fluorescent chiaroscuro of pillowy back rooms.

Sounds absolutely brilliant, to be fair. Problem is that it isn’t brilliant at all. The society of this just-around-the-corner Brazil is fastidiously heteronormative, and sex is not a pursuit of pleasure, but a purely functional activity practiced for procreation purposes. The shag happy church, and, concurrently, the society at large is disposed in favour of the man: in the sex scenes (which, I have to say, look pretty real) male participants take control, and public buildings are equipped with scanners which announce whether a passing woman is pregnant or not. We are in the hyperbolic realms of fable and allegory here.

divine love review

Research informs me that the recently incumbent Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is ‘known for his strong support of national conservatism’ and is a ‘vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and homosexuality, abortion, affirmative action, drug liberalisation and secularism’. Sounds like a real blowhard, and within this social context we can see how Mascaro’s film is a heightened projection of how this sort of unregulated conservatism may play out, realising the liberal fears which naturally surround such a repressive regime (although, judging by Bolsonaro’s sluggish reaction to Covid you wonder if there will be a Brazil left, amirite?).

That said, there is nothing hysterical in Divine Love, which tempers its polemic with witty touches of dark comedy: Danilo (Julio Machado) is a florist, and is often gloriously depicted without his shirt on, a clear sop to the homosexual male gaze. And although an understanding of where the film is coming from gives Divine Love its urgency, along with its ideological stimulus, there are still cinematic pleasures to be had in the slow tempo storytelling and luxurious cinematography of Diego Garcia, who creates a sybaritic spectacle of the film’s colourful, quasi-futuristic interiors.

divine love review

Angry irony is duly employed in the final act wherein the loyal and devout Joana discovers she is in the family way, but, somehow, not via Danilo or any of the other thrusting male members of the church. I mean, the only answer could be the Divine Love which this society is based upon, surely? Shame then that when it comes down to it, Joana is ostracised for perceived infidelity and faces a life alone for fulfilling the tenements of her off-beat society and an administration which uses religion in the same way that a parent may use a Victorian fairy tale to sway their child’s understanding of the world: a loaded narrative which denies the complexity of human relations and offers empty expectations. Mascaro’s fable is not so didactic as all that, however, and instead translates contemporary concerns into a visually gorgeous point of view.

Divine Love is in US cinemas and virtual cinemas from November 13th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

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