The year is 2027, and in Brazil, Carnival has been replaced as the country’s most celebrated festival with a new party called Divine Love. Now revelers gather for a teeming, pulsating rave complete with techno beats, strobe lights, and Daft Punk-esque costumed officiants decked out in neon. Joanna and her husband are two of the revelers. They are at one with each other, with the crowd, and with Christ. Oh yeah, this is a Christian worship service – new Catholicism synchronized with the rhythms of the new wave.
When she’s not rave-worshiping, Joanna works for the city marriage-licensing office. She’s a notary. She helps couples walk through the bureaucratic process of getting legally divorced. Actually, that’s what she’s supposed to do. Instead, she does all she can to convince couples not to get divorced. She’s doing the Lord’s work, she thinks, shepherding couples away from the peril of divorce and back into the realm of Divine Love as exemplified by marriage. She believes wholeheartedly in God, and she believes in the bureaucratic process as a system marked by equality and process and religiously defined causes and results. One guesses that her faith in God and in the system are one and the same.
Her personal life is marked by one major qualification to her belief – she and her husband are unable to have a child. They have tried everything, and still they are childless. She wonders why God won’t answer her deepest prayer. She asks her pastor—who works in a drive-through confessional—and he offers her only obfuscating platitudes. She presses further into her faith. She is undeterred.
Divine Love begins in an unexpected place—a rave—to deliberately stretch your expectation of what devout Christian religiosity looks like. Then it goes even more unexpected places. Given that this is a kind of gentle, speculative science-fiction film, Divine Love isn’t necessarily saying that faithful faith should look like this. It’s asking, could it? (This is the place for me to tell you that this film includes some of the most explicit scenes of sexual intercourse I’ve ever seen in a movie.)
After the film challenges the audiences ideas about faith, the story takes its protagonist, Joanna, to places she’s not expecting as well. The twists that come her way are definitely “Christian,” and they take her to places those sorts of things tend to take God’s people throughout history and especially in the Biblical witness. I’ll leave it at that.
Ultimately, Divine Love is interested in faith beyond the accepted norms. It uses a clever combination of concept, style, character, and narrative to take us there. It asks if there can be faith that makes no sense to us, if we can consider someone faithful who is outside the camp, beating on the walls, asking first why she has been abandoned by God and then, when she doesn’t feel that way anymore, why that means she has to be abandoned by her community. Divine Love is a raw, provocative film with, I think, a devout heart. Faith is rarely as easy as we’d like it to be.