Benedetta is a French biographical film starring Paul Verhoeven as a director and co-screenwriter, author of films such as Total Recall, Basic Instinct, RoboCop and others. The script is loosely based on a book Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy American historian Judith Brown. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d’Or, and Verhoeven gathered behind the camera the same team he worked with on his latest film, Elle.
Benedetta movie review, plot
The plot of the film is set at the beginning of the 17th century, and we follow the girl Benedetta Carlina, whom her parents place in a nunnery in the Italian city of Pesci as a sign of gratitude to God. The plot has been moving for several years and our protagonist (beautiful Virginia Efira) is now a girl who claims to have shocking religious visions, that Jesus sends messages through her and that her strong faith creates stigmata, wounds inflicted on Jesus when he was crucified. Other nuns respected her for her mystique, not knowing that Benedetta was involved in a lesbian affair with another nun.
Benedetta has been a sincere believer since she was a child and there is nothing controversial about that, but one of the main questions about her belief is whether she has really ever received any feedback from a divine entity. Signs of the presence of a higher power are constantly appearing in the monastery and according to some nuns they are miracles, while Abbess Felicity (Charlotte Rempling) is not very sure – Benedetta may have some mental health problems, may be mistaken, and may simply be cheat.
Reading how this film is full of scandalous and blasphemous scenes, I remembered the absolute champion of censorship, the paradoxically great 1971 film The Devils, which had a similar premise. In it, a Catholic priest, as a striking man, caught the eye of a scandalous nun whose years of celibacy will serve as a catalyst for his downfall, and there are inevitable political machinations and the good old exorcism of the devil. At the time, it was a very controversial study of female sexuality and a great cross-section of church hypocrisy, but compared to this film, The Devils it comes almost like Pocahontas.
The world that Verhoeven represents to us is a place of alleged faith that is constantly in conflict between its own divine purpose and the pragmatism of the existence of the world. While on the one hand we have young believers who are ready to dedicate their lives to the faith, on the other hand we have factors such as manipulation, reputation, money and politics of the monastery itself, the abbess and church dignitaries. The authors are not cynical and do not condemn the obvious hypocrisy of this world, and that is one of the great pluses of this film. In the background of the story lurks the spread of the plague that has spared Pesha so far, but it is only a matter of time before the disease will break through its walls.
For the story itself, the smoldering conflict between the divine and the human world is the basis of realism for all the characters, except for Benedict, who manages to unite the two worlds, if only for his own religious pleasure. However, her miniature hypocrisy is nothing compared to her unification of the divine and the corporeal with the arrival of the nun Bartholomew in the monastery – Benedetta is convinced that her love for Bartholomew is a reflection of divine love, but those who reveal the affair do not expect the same opinion.
The film fulfilled the potential of its unusual biographical story with a lot of melodrama and I was surprised that he mostly takes himself seriously, although there are several scenes that spoil that general impression and without which it was definitely possible. Paul Verhoeven is a filmmaker who does not shy away from scenes of violence or eroticism, and after reading the trivia I expected a lot of (unnecessary) scenes with naked nuns and I was not mistaken, but the filmmaker really takes time and effort to dissect the problems he deals with. Although not constant in terms of tone, atmosphere or even genre, the film raises clear questions about sexual freedom and its relationship to religion.
I understood the entire film primarily as a melodramatically realized biographical work, and then as a pure provocation aimed at systemic hypocrisy, moral tyranny and direct cruelty of the Catholic Church at that time. The authors do not offer us a definitive answer as to whether Benedict is a true or false prophet, but they confirm that it is the reason why other people have faith or want something from God – starting with priests who want to become a place of pilgrimage on foot, through nuns faith makes sense, all the way to the common people seeking protection from the plague. Benedetto’s behavior is a combination of facts and assumptions that the film completely rejects, and that is exactly what is to be commended.
Benedetta is a sensationalist and controversial biographical work that represents a rather depraved satire of religious chastity and which is much more than a “movie with lesbian nuns” as can be concluded from the promotional material. Release date: December 3, 2021 (United States). Final rating: 8/10
Benedetta movie cast and characters
- Virginie Efira as Benedetta Carlini
- Lambert Wilson as The Nuncio
- Daphne Patakia as Bartolomea
- Charlotte Rampling as The Abbess
- Olivier Rabourdin as Alfonso Cecchi
- Clotilde Courau as Midea Carlini, Benedetta’s mother
- David Clavel as Giuliano Carlini, Benedetta’s father
- Hervé Pierre as Paolo Ricordati
- Louise Chevillotte as nun Christina
- Guilaine Londez as nun Jacopa
- Lauriane Riquet as nun Roasanna
- Nicolas Gaspar as the mercenary captain