Gabriel Mascaro’s Divine Love comes at a timely moment for Brazil, whose newly-appointed President Jair Bolsonaro, a strong proponent of “traditional” family values and former member of the Social Christian Party, shares a similar ideology with the film’s 2027 dystopia. Divine Love centers on Joana (Dira Paes), an administration worker who deals with the finalization of divorces, but attempts to mend these broken marriages by introducing couples to a cult named Divine Love, which uses sex and biblical teaching as a stimulant for strained relationships. Taking place at a time when detectors in shops and public buildings reveal your marital and pregnancy status when you walk through them, Mascaro’s film speaks to current anxieties about how our personal data is constantly being harvested for supposed ease of use, and plays up the dangers of allowing such information to become public knowledge.
A lack of privacy leads to social stigma — in this case, of unmarried, divorced, or infertile people — and Divine Love suggests that we may be becoming more judgmental of those less able or willing to hold down relationships. Where Joana is concerned, there’s not much to hold onto, as the character is particularly single-minded and difficult to care about. Her ongoing fertility issues should make her relatable, yet Mascaro paints her as shrewish, self-righteous, and open to ridicule. While vaguely comedic in its satirization of marriage and religion, there’s a contemptuous undertone to Divine Love. Given Mascaro’s cautionary messages about moving towards such a dangerously fixed position on commitment, this is understandable, but it doesn’t allow much room for empathy. And the introduction of a bizarre evangelical plot point designed to test Joana in the film’s final third feels both ill-considered and underdeveloped. Although Divine Love feels dramatically dissatisfying and frustratingly open-ended, it at least provides us with a novel look at how institutional conventions may continue to be shaped in a 21st century age.
Published as part of London Film Festival 2019 | Dispatch 3.