CANNES, France – Forgive them, Father, for they have sinned. Many times! Creatively! And wait to hear what they did with this statuette of the Virgin Mary.

The bad girls I’m talking about are Benedetta and Bartolomea, two 17th-century lesbian nuns at the center of the new drama “Benedetta,” which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday. It’s a delicious and sacrilegious provocation from Paul Verhoeven, the director of “Basic Instinct”, “Showgirls” and “Elle”, and at 82 years old, Verhoeven is still proving to be as dashing.

Based on Judith C. Brown’s non-fiction book “Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy”, the film follows Benedetta (Virginie Efira), a young nun so convinced that she is the wife of the Christ that she even dreams of it. a handsome shirtless Jesus flirting with her. And why wouldn’t he? Benedetta is a blonde bombshell who looks less like a pious 17th-century nun than a Charlie’s Angel in disguise, and when pretty peasant Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) arrives at the convent, she begins to make eyes at Benedetta too.

Nun over Nun action ensues much faster than you might think, given that this convent is run by a strict Mother Superior (Charlotte Rampling) and Benedetta is prone to visions that end with the manifestation of stigmata. . But as her religious ecstasy grows more and more orgasmic, Benedetta ends up finding a steamier, more earthly way to hunt this high. “Jesus gave me a new heart,” she said to Bartolomea, exposing a breast. “Feel it.” (Look, they did the foreplay very differently in the 17th century.)

Once their sexual relationship heats up, these nuns find their habits easy to break but hard to break. Eventually, a statuette of the Virgin Mary is carved into a sex toy and after Benedetta and Bartolomea, uh, applied themselves to it, audiences at the Cannes press screening applauded the film’s blasphemous nerve. Verhoeven has always had a knack for making the ridiculous divine, and now the reverse is also true.

Yet during the press conference for “Benedetta”, Verhoeven insisted the scene was not blasphemous at all.

“I don’t really understand how you can blaspheme about something that happened, even in 1625,” he said, offering excerpts from Brown’s book. “You can’t change history, you can’t change things that happened, and I based it on things that happened.”

Maybe, but Verhoeven’s version still gives the truth a little flair, as Benedetta and Bartolomea always seem to be wearing eye makeup, foundation, and lipstick. While their faces are never naked, their bodies often are, and would it surprise you to learn that when these flexible nuns get naked, they are as toned and neat as a Playboy central? At the convent, God may be watching, but Verhoeven’s gaze wins out over everything.

If viewers ring “Benedetta” for serving religious commentaries with a side of cheesecake, Verhoeven has remained indifferent. “Usually when people have sex they take their clothes off,” Verhoeven said in a neutral tone. “I’m stunned, deep down, how much we don’t want to look at the reality of life.”

Her actresses have expressed no qualms about their sex scene. “It was all very happy when we got undressed,” Efira said, while Patakia told media that when Verhoeven realizes, “You forget you’re naked.”

Yet they never lost sight of how necessary they would be to push the boundaries.

“I remember reading the script on my own and thinking, ‘There isn’t a single normal scene,’” Patakia said. “There is always something unsettling. She added: “So I immediately said yes.”

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