Movie Reviews: Visionary Brazilian Sci-Fi, U.K. Psychodrama

movie reviews
"Divine Love"

Divine Love

Brazilian writer-director Gabriel Mascaro’s follow-up to his acclaimed 2015 feature “Neon Bull” is another vivid vision in fluorescence and pastel, this time in service to a profound parable about faith, doubt and the unexplained. “Divine Love” is set seven years into the future, where many Brazilians have embraced the religious movement of the title—a mixture of borrowed Christian dogma, cult-y self-development rituals, sexual experimentation and electronic dance music.

Joana (Dira Paes) is one such adherent, partying for Jesus by night and using her day job, as a notary in local government, to evangelize for her cause. She takes pride in the number of separated couples she saves from the brink of divorce by initiating them into Divine Love, but her home life is not so sanguine. Her husband Danilo (Julio Machado), a florist, suffers from infertility, denying Joana a child despite the fervency of her prayers—until she receives news that throws her ordered life into tumult.

As in sci-fi benchmarks “Alphaville” and “Code 46,” Mascaro’s vibrant production design and painterly eye offer a plausible techno-future without changing much about contemporary architecture. “Divine Love” is a world of drive-thru church services, gargantuan walls of electronic data, and increasingly invasive social control by the state. I’ll leave it to those better educated on the trend lines of Brazilian politics to assess the prophecy of Mascaro’s near-future; suffice it to say, it passes the smell test.

Mascaro is a director of unusual daring, filling “Divine Love” with a number of moments I’ve never seen before in a mainstream film. But his style is one of old-school art-house rigor: No cuts within scenes, only unbroken takes, and his camera movements, rare and subtle, are psychologically impactful. Everything coalesces into a work of both visual and literary poetry, where the symbolism is rich, and the film’s critique—of how hidebound religious organizations cannot appreciate miracles that fall outside of their paradigms—is as timeless as those found in Dreyer and Bergman’s faith-based fictions. It’s one of the year’s must-see films.

“Divine Love” begins screening Friday at the Virtual Cinemas of Movies of Delray, Movies of Lake Worth and Coral Gables Art Cinema.

“Make Up”

Make Up

Shades of Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” and, to some extent, Hitchcock’s “The Birds” color this disquieting debut feature from British writer-director Claire Oakley. Molly Windsor plays Ruth, a young and impressionable sort, who arrives at a campground for a brief holiday with longtime boyfriend Tom (Joseph Quinn). The atmosphere is eerie and insular to the point of claustrophobic, from the campground manager’s witchy laugh to the nocturnal howl of foxes, the vacant campers covered in fumigating cling wrap, and the emerging consensus that she’s an intrusive species in an unfriendly biome.

This feeling of otherness and rejection intensifies when Ruth discovers a lipstick smudge on Tom’s mirror, and hairs that are not hers in his closet. Her imagination runs amok with festering jealousies and debilitating fixations on possibly innocent minutia, with an attractive fellow-resident named Jade (Stefanie Martini) serving at once as her new friend and confidante and Tom’s potential paramour.

I use words like “possibly” and “potential” not as hedges against spoiler alerts but because Oakley herself doesn’t exactly play her hand. There is a perpetual thrill, in these fast-moving 86 minutes, in not knowing where the next scene is headed, and riding its ambiguous waves into an uncertain dénouement. Through expert associative editing, the director places us firmly in Ruth’s increasingly scattered mind, letting her hallucinatory paranoia spread, indeed like makeup, over an otherwise naturalistic setting. The result is a film that is either a crushing portrait of nascent schizophrenia, or a liberating coming-of-age story of self-actualization. Or perhaps it’s both. You’ll want to watch it again to reach any conclusions.

“Make Up” opens Friday at Living Room Theaters at FAU and Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas in Jupiter.

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