A near-futurist neon-dystopian theological Brazilian sex-sci-fi isn’t what you’d normally come across at the cinema, but that’s why we have Film Festivals.
From the mind of Neon Bull Director Gabriel Mascaro, in civil servant Joana’s (Dira Paes) world bureaucracy, religion and much else has by demand become wholesale, corporatized and impersonal as believers necessarily navigate that intrinsic amongst masses.
The likes of going to a concert environment, an actual example from the film, is about as intimate as anyone will get with their faith. This is save of course Divino Amor, frequented by Joana and her partner; a series of evangelical group sex sessions intended as a form of sexual therapy to strengthen marriages.
Joana herself working amidst divorce applications and discouraging the practice, Divine Love hits its satiric stride about 20 minutes in as Joana seeks religious advice from a local leader as one might, quite literally, wander through a Macca’s drive-through.
Churches where you needn’t get out of your car being a staple of this world, it’s a mark of Mascaro’s qualities as a filmmaker that he shuns the desire to overly exposit on this world’s attributes or assure us of how far off this future is; the slightly-emphasised and perceptibly symbolic differences with modern day speaking for themselves.
The notable exception to this is a child’s narration running through the film explaining what is already abundantly evident. Not distracting too greatly, the film is recommended most of all by the well-staged, frequent and shrewdly lit neon-drenched sex sequences where Mascaro renders that emotional by conversely withdrawing the camera from intimate view and taking the time to let varied encounters play out before us.
What Divine Love manages so well in it’s production design and broad conception falters when it comes to something as simple as timing. Hanging the film on an obvious religious parable and question of faith and belief apparent in many works going back far beyond cinema, the crux of the tale emerges very, very late in the piece.
Leaving us sparing time for Joana, her friends, family and indeed the audience to reckon with it or absorb the reactions or consequences of that which transpires, what is let down by plotting is still more than engaging for the distinct world Mascaro so vividly brings to life.