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Review: Swinging is Christian therapy in futuristic Brazilian satire ‘Divine Love’

Dira Paes in the movie "Divine Live."
Dira Paes in the movie “Divine Live.”
(Outsider Pictures)

Commodified faith dominates the near-future vision of Brazil rendered in “Divine Love,” the brilliantly provocative and arresting latest feature from director Gabriel Mascaro (“Neon Bull”). With sci-fi touches and sanctimonious eroticism, the incisive satire intently takes on the influence of evangelical Christianity on the state — namely the far-right movement that elected populist Jair Bolsonaro.

In 2027, a child narrates, the government pretends to uphold secularism, but an antiabortion and ultra-conservative agenda has seeped into every aspect of daily life. Mascaro (with a set of co-writers) evinces this via genetic detectors on entrances that indicate a person’s marital status or a pregnancy. Overstepping her bureaucratic position to impose her religious beliefs, Joana (Dira Paes) prides herself in the number of divorces she’s prevented. Infertility, however, pains her own marriage and has polluted her conviction with doubt.

Mascaro first paints Joana as the Lord’s most loyal servant, irrationally so. But that devotion isn’t as self-sacrificing as it appears. It hinges on her dream of being a mother, a truth that causes her guilt. That fascinating inner turmoil speaks of those willing to conveniently accommodate “sin” to justify their deeds as a pathway to a self-righteous end, all while judging others. She can rationalize anything so long as it edifies what she considers sacred. Hence Divine Love, her Christian couples group that could pass for a steamy swingers club, where therapy consists of extramarital sexual encounters, permitted under the pretense of helping the husband and wife stay together or procreate.

Fluorescent colors, whether in neon signs or production design elements, wash over every one of Mexican cinematographer Diego García’s dazzling frames, often shot inconspicuously through doorframes. By way of its lush and inviting aesthetic, as well as the sexy electronic score, the film reflects how proselytizing has taken on the form of an enticing, easily consumable product: a drive-thru praying session with a pastor or a massive rave for Jesus.

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For its final act, “Divine Love,” one of the most original and biting releases of the year, glides into a supernatural twist of messianic proportions, exposing how when presented with the ultimate miracle even the most vociferous believers act hypocritically skeptical.

‘Divine Love’

In Portuguese with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Playing: Available Nov. 13 via virtual cinemas, including Laemmle Theatres


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