By John Mulderig | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Pity the poor contemporary artist who just doesn’t know what to do about religion.
Is it a bogeyman ready to pop out of the shadows and spoil everyone’s fun? Is it an alien, outmoded, impenetrably mysterious hobby some misguided souls insist on continuing to practice? Or is faith a perennial theme just waiting to be dusted off and put to innovative use?
To judge by his bizarre drama “Divine Love” (Outsider/Strand), for Brazilian director Gabriel Mascaro the answer to all three questions would seem to be yes. So it should come as no surprise if his film — which he also co-wrote with Rachel Daisy Ellis, Esdras Bezerra and Lucas Paraizo — strikes believers as incoherent in tone as well as repellent in content.
Mascaro begins by projecting a dystopian near future for his country in which the evangelical group from which the movie takes its title has infiltrated the supposedly still secular government. This has resulted in official policies encouraging fertility and discouraging divorce.
Accordingly, Joana (Dira Paes), a bureaucrat who also is one of the sect’s most devoted followers, uses her professional position to cajole couples preparing to split to stay together. At home, though, she finds her ardent faith tested by her and her husband Danilo’s (Julio Machado) inability to conceive.
Predictably, anguished Joana gets nothing but platitudes from the unnamed minister (Emílio de Mello) at a drive-thru chapel to whom she repeatedly turns for guidance. For his part, Danilo spends long periods hanging upside down and naked in front of an infrared device meant to boost fecundity.
Wrongheaded in its values and at times pornographic, Mascaro’s anti-populist parable attacks a version of Christianity no sensible believer would recognize.
In between group Bible readings, for example, the adherents of Divine Love practice a form of marriage therapy that involves ritual adultery. This leaves the audience to wonder if the commandment against that grievous sin was somehow left out of their copies of Scripture.
If Mascaro’s paranoid premise is somewhat reminiscent of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” his twisted conclusion drifts into territory long ago trodden (to then-controversial effect) by Italian helmer Roberto Rossellini in his 1948 short “The Miracle.”
Nowadays, objections to such a theme might appear quaintly futile. But the idea of an ersatz nativity story has not improved with the passage of years.
In Portuguese. Subtitles.
The film contains blasphemous plot developments, excessively graphic portrayals of aberrant adulterous sex and marital lovemaking with full nudity, medical gore and a mild oath. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.