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“Divine Love” provocatively skewers nationalized religion in dystopian Brazil 2027

Friday, March 6, 4070 Vilas Hall, 7 p.m., free. Info

Gabriel Mascaro’s latest film, Divine Love (2019), is a deadpan, dystopian dive into a near future ruled by the perversity of religious doctrine, stamped in neon fluorescence and disseminated throughout Brazil. The omniscient voice of a mysterious boy establishes this reality in the year 2027, where “the party of Supreme Love” has overtaken Carnival as the national celebration. But this conflating narrative preface is quickly pared down and affixed more intimately to the routine of one woman, Joana Martins (Dira Paes), who dutifully works at a registry office assisting in the paper and electronic legalities of divorce proceedings.

Perhaps cinematically inspired in part by Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) and even Lucas’ THX 1138 (1971), Joana’s pseudo-altruistic efforts in a vast bureaucracy are comically futile, as she continuously attempts to dissuade couples of divorcing; instead, she redirects them through her titular cult-like place of worship. Replying in her own words to her superior, she hopes to make bureaucracy more humane, as she believes in systematic order and obedience of guidelines that may offer a personal gateway to transcendence, which is in spiritual alignment with her belief in God’s will and counsel.

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These working life matters are contrasted and complicated by the uncertainty of domesticity with husband Danilo (Julio Machado), with whom she has been attempting to conceive a child. The two have even taken drastic and experimental measures by visiting endocrinologists and buying a brand-name fertility heat lamp that involves Danilo’s absurd bat-like suspension. Inevitably, the ordeals begin to resemble a sort of surrealistic parody of something one might have seen in Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life (2018). But as these trials tip over into the third act, complete with Joana’s recurring trips to a see a pastor at a drive-thru prayer service, the film’s themes intriguingly shift to the significance of divinity and the miraculous, as Joana finds herself as a Mary Christ figure.

Analogous to the matter-of-fact religious drama Apostasy (a 2018 Wisconsin Film Festival premiere), writer-director Mascaro’s voice is strongest in the denouement, as he offers a condemnation of organized religion in a refreshing context that demonstrates the hypocrisy of postmodern Christianity’s favoring theoretical purity tests over unconditional love and acceptance. With further tonal comparisons to the themes of identity in Nadav Lapid’s challenging Synonyms (2019), Divine Love may be the most provocative and divisive film screening this year as part of the Cinematheque’s annual LACIS series, but it is absolutely worthy of comprehensive consideration.

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