Gabriel Mascaro continues his rise as one of Brazil’s most audacious filmmakers with this provocative and confident take on religion, sex and bureaucracy, set in the not-so-distant future.
Dir. Gabriel Mascaro
2019 | Brazil | Drama | 101 mins | Portuguese
Not rated (likely to exceed R21 guidelines)
Cast: Dira Paes, Julio Machado, Teca Pereira
Plot: A woman who uses her bureaucratic job to convince divorcing couples to stay together is utterly committed to getting pregnant by her husband, in a future of dance parties, ritualistic orgies and fundamentalist Christianity.
Awards: Nom. for C.I.C.A.E. Award – Panorama (Berlin); Nom. for Grand Jury Prize – World Cinema Dramatic (Sundance)
International Sales: Memento Films
Subject Matter: Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed on screener)
One might call this a sci-fi movie. Firstly, it is set in 2027, even if it is not so far away from today—perhaps the year 202X has been ingrained in popular culture to be the marker of our futuristic dystopia.
Writer-director Gabriel Mascaro understands this, but more crucially he also understands Brazil, his home, well enough to deliver a scathing attack on where the country is heading. 2019 is the tipping point as the world physically and symbolically careens headfirst into the unknown X.
Mascaro’s third fiction feature (after August Winds (2014) and Neon Bull (2015) showed us a promising young filmmaker to be reckoned with) seems to be in tuned with how the personal and the political can be provocatively intertwined.
In this case, a God-loving woman, Joana, who believes in her faith so deeply that she feels she must continue with her ‘public service’ at all costs so that she will one day be given a holy sign—a baby. (She and her husband have been trying for years but to no avail.)
Joana is a civil servant who handles divorce cases in a strict bureaucracy, but she has been persuading her clients to heal together and regain trust in their marriage (…in the name of God, which she doesn’t add of course).
This strong personal agency (or more accurately in this case, of personal religious morality) against legal rights is intuitively balanced by Joana and her husband’s wilful participation in ‘Divine Love’, a club of sorts with Bible-quoting attendees in search of the true meaning of love and connection.
This is where the controversy starts, and where the film goes into daring territory—the commingling of Christianity, sexuality and politics—to the point that the film is both spiritual and sexual at the same time, best encapsulated by an astonishing 5-minute long take of two couples having sex in a static wide shot. (At one point, they return back to their own spouses.)
Divine Love affirms Mascaro as one of Brazil’s most audacious filmmakers, and while this may be a sexually explicit and occasionally blasphemous work, he finds some measure of poetic transcendence (at least for his lead character) in the final moments. I doubt that Singapore’s censorship board will allow this to be screened, but if you ever chance upon it elsewhere, go watch it.