Benedetta (2021)

Loosely based on the true story of a lesbian nun in 17th century Italy, Verhoeven’s largely compelling film (unfortunately banned in Singapore) ticks all the provocative checkboxes as he tackles religious hypocrisy and eroticism in the same effortless breath. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,319

Dir. Paul Verhoeven
2021 | France | Drama/Biography/History | 131 mins | 2.39:1 | French & Latin
Banned in Singapore

Cast: Virginie Efira, Daphne Patakia, Charlotte Rampling
Plot: A 17th-century nun in Italy suffers from disturbing religious and erotic visions. She is assisted by a companion, and the relationship between the two women develops into a romantic love affair.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or & Queer Palm (Cannes)
International Sales: Pathe International

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature – Religion; Homosexuality
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No


Leave it to Paul Verhoeven to explore a subject matter that any less fuck-care a director would have wilted under the pressure of political correctness. 

So here in the long-delayed Benedetta, the provocateur’s follow-up to 2016’s Elle, we get a film loosely based on the true story of a lesbian nun in 17th century Pescia, Italy, adapted from Judith Brown’s ‘Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy’. 

As expected, Benedetta is outright banned in Singapore—there is always that prevalent fear that it will offend hardline religious conservatives who are, for the lack of a better word, easily triggered. 

Verhoeven ticks all the controversial checkboxes as he tackles religious hypocrisy and eroticism in the same effortless breath. 

To me, it’s actually thematically tamer than Elle, and I feel Verhoeven could have even pushed the film further. 

“Extraordinary accusations require extraordinary proof.”

Still, it is a pretty good attempt at a medieval biopic, oozing with sex, nudity, violence, torture and blasphemous visions of pleasure and pain—yet however one might feel Verhoeven to be a sensationalist filmmaker, Benedetta does accrue some serious weight. 

In Virginie Efira, the film finds a bold actress who delivers an excellent titular performance, marked by fury and seduction. 

Playing opposite her is the captivating Daphne Patakia as Sister Bartolomea, Benedetta’s secret lover; the always reliable Charlotte Rampling also has a significant supporting role as an aged abbess, who suspects something sinful is happening in her church. 

I don’t think Benedetta is a truly great film, but it shows us that religion can operate on double standards.  Sometimes it’s not about faith or the faithless, but about the institutionalisation of sexism, desire and power abuse.  Horrid lies can, in fact, expose even more horrid truths.

Grade: B+


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