Divine Love Is Still Pushing the Limits of Religious Sci-Fi
This 2019 movie imagines a disturbing near-future where government, technology, and religion are irreparably intertwined.
Doors at every government building and shopping center now feature a high-tech detector, not to discover possible weapons, but one that displays the marital status of every person who walks through it and whether that individual is pregnant. “Fetus detected,” says the machine before revealing if the unborn being has been registered to a father. It essentially answers the question, “Is this child the legitimate product of a marriage or that of sin?”
This is Brazil in 2027, a country that diplomatically still claims to function as a secular state, but is well on its way to becoming a Christo-fascist utopia. The colorful debauchery of the nation’s world-famous Carnival has been replaced with a religious music festival, known as the Party of Supreme Love, where ravers bask in unsubtle evangelical chants.
Awash with sumptuous neon colors, director Gabriel Mascaro’s seductively alarming “Divine Love” ponders a near future where technology exists to uphold the most rigid of conservative values. Life here is only worth protecting if conceived under accepted moral norms. Spirituality has been fully commodified. Believers can now access a drive-thru chapel in their cars for a quick one-on-one meeting with a pastor.
Released during the administration of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, this erotic sci-fi drama about the biases that surround faith and the false virtue that plagues institutions acts as a piercing statement against the increasingly dangerous ways in which religious extremism has infiltrated politics in numerous would-be democracies around the globe.
Narrated by an unnamed child, Mascaro’s second feature follows Joanna (Dira Paes), a devoted Christian working as a notary public. Day in and day out, she tries to convince couples filing for divorce to reconsider. For Joanna, working as part of the bureaucratic machine grants her an opportunity to directly steer infidels into the enlightened path.
Concentrating on this woman’s forceful determination, Paes’ performance crystalizes how this conviction that following a deity’s supposed guidance will lead her to unimaginable blissfulness is not hypothetical. Joanna is convinced that her feats for the Lord will earn her the rewards she seeks in this physical plane.
Joanna funnels those receptive to her unethical intrusion to a couples-only prayer group called Divine Love, where she and her husband Danilo (Julio Machado), a florist, have found support as they struggle to start a family. For its members, sex with other people is not only allowed but prescribed as a way to rekindle the marital bond and prevent separation.
The explicit sex scenes that occur in the context of these cult-like sessions are sanctioned by a hive mentality that demands one surrender personal agency in order to gain acceptance. Right before climaxing, the male partner returns to his spouse to consummate the sexual act and fulfill the promise of insemination. Aware of his fertility issues, Danilo purchases a contraption that promises shining infrared light on his testicles will help.
Throughout “Divine Love,” Mascaro makes us aware of the underlying conflict at play in every aesthetic and narrative aspect of the movie. What’s artificial or manmade clashing with what seems pure, organic, and authentic? The most obvious motif in this holy battle are the neon lights that coat nearly every exquisite shot by cinematographer Diego García with an ethereal intensity, which works in tandem with the uncannily beguiling synth score.
Then there’s Danilo refusing to dye white roses blue because it goes against what’s natural. And yet, he resorts to a mechanical device to try to remedy his condition. Joanna won’t consider in vitro fertilization or adoption but willfully scans into a sophisticated database harboring every citizen’s genetic information to obtain answers. Both characters fall into multiple contradictions, but it’s the instability of their relationship that proves the most devastating. Their love lacks a solid foundation beyond the approval of their congregation.
When Joanna finally receives the miracle she had been furiously demanding from her God, the outcome doesn’t pan out how she had anticipated. No one has faith in her word, not even Danilo. Transformed into what she despised, a single mother of a kid whose father’s identity is unknown, Joanna becomes the victim of the very system she previously upheld. Her former allies turn her back on her now that she’s strayed from their strict teachings. Facing her new circumstances, Joanna might finally discover true love.