Verhoeven’s latest, premiering at Cannes, is an attack of graphic sex, graphic deaths, elaborate nun gossip, Charlotte Rampling being bitchy, and incredibly groomed pubic hair.
that of Paul Verhoeven Benedetta begins with a title card that says, “This movie was inspired by real events.” After smiling happily for two hours at the chaos of the movie’s absolutely insane lesbian nunsploitation, I just have to assume that almost everything is the product of Verhoeven’s twisted imagination.. Benedetta is ostensibly based on Judith C. Brown’s 1986 Shameless Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy, a non-fiction book that detailed a forbidden relationship between two nuns, but Verhoeven goes way beyond two newbie Sapphics, doing it quietly behind closed doors. This film is deranged on almost every level, a blasphemous, maximalist, and hilariously erotic satire that is a bit like Showgirls took place in the time of the plague, or if the years 1978 Behind the walls of the convent meet Holy maud meet The word I meet The passion of Christ met a 70s porn remake of Ammonite. I really liked it, and I’m here to tell you as much as I can without totally ruining the transcendent future experience of watching it in a theater with a bunch of angry Catholics biting outside.
Benedetta follows the main character (played by Virginie Efira gloriously campy), a brave 17th century obsessive Virgin Mary who was promised to Jesus by her father after nearly dying at birth and, as a result, enters a small convent then that she is still a young girl. Almost immediately it becomes clear that Benedetta is a bit different, the kind of nun in training who, praying to a statue of the Virgin Mary falling on her with her left breast exposed, licking her nipples. As Benedetta gets older and hotter, her lust for the Lord and her familiars becomes even more intense, and she begins to have visions of herself kissing with her “husband” Jesus. -Christ himself, who appears to her to be a big – a key jealous hottie floating in the eerie computer-generated sky from Kanye West’s “Bound 2” video.
But just as Benedetta begins to make contact with her strange Jesus – and confuse the hell out of the caustic and distant sister Felicia (Charlotte Rampling), who can’t tell if Benedetta is having visions or is just mad – a peasant woman named Bartolomea (Daphne Pataki) arrives at the convent. Bartolomea is desperate to escape her abusive and also, wouldn’t you know, super sexy dad. Benedetta and Bartolomea have the kind of instant Shane-Carmen connection that you just can’t ignore; within minutes the two exchange flirtatious remarks while audibly shitting next to each other in the convent toilet and, scenes later, as is lesbian tradition, fucking each other with a wooden figurine of the Virgin Mary very carefully carved in the shape of a dildo. Sadly, a simple life of kinky after-hours lesbian sex in the convent kitchen just isn’t in the cards for these two – Benedetta can’t let go of her desire for Jesus, who begins to possess her, causing stigma, bizarre vocal changes, and roars of orgasmic pain that plague her at night. (Fortunately, Bartolomea selflessly agrees to watch over tortured Benedetta, separated only by a transparent curtain).
Is Benedetta pretending to get attention, à la Nomi Malone, or is she really a saint who will save her town from the Black Death, à la Connors Crystal? If absolute power absolutely corrupts, does absolute gay power absolutely corrupts cheerfully? The film doesn’t tackle either of these questions anytime soon, but what follows is an onslaught of graphic sex, graphic deaths, elaborate nun gossip, Charlotte Rampling being a bitch to everyone ( including the papal nuncio of Florence, yet another fucking church emissary), and incredibly groomed pubic hair.
In Cannes, during my press screening, the film was received with shocked laughs and applause, and at the largest Lumière screening, a five-minute standing ovation. Below I have described the craziest and most country moments of Benedetta – I left out a lot of the more spoiler-free moments, but please understand this thing is beautifully unbalanced until the end.
➼ At the start of the film, young Benedetta prays to a statue of the Virgin Mary which then falls directly on her, implying that the Virgin Mary is listening and maybe a little excited. Lying under the heavy statue, calm but intrigued, Benedetta runs her tongue along her exposed left breast. “It’s a miracle she wasn’t crushed,” said a stunned nun, who just missed the breast licking.
➼ During a play staged by the church, Benedetta witnesses a vision of Hot Jesus. “You are my wife,” he said cheerfully. Shortly after, Jesus returns to her, this time at night and a little more holed and bloody, asking her to put his hands on hers, to put his head on his crown of thorns, then to take off his little loincloth. White. The two kiss as their hands bleed against each other, and Benedetta reaches her first pain gas.
➼ Moments after meeting Benedetta, Bartolomea is showering for what may be the very first time (when we first meet her, she runs into a horde of sheep and says she has never used a real toilets before). In the shower, she literally drops the soap and falls forward, her left breast falling straight into Benedetta’s hands. When she steps out, she asks Benedetta where she can “shit”, and the two have a happy trip to the bathroom, where they sit next to each other while simultaneously and loudly emptying their bowels. They wipe with a bunch of leaves and Benedetta tells Bartolomea that she is “beautiful”.
➼ The same day they met – again, as a reminder, in a 17th century convent where being homosexual is punished with public death – Bartolomea kisses Benedetta on the mouth before going to bed, surprising and exciting her. The next morning, at their daily nuns meeting (sorry, I’m Jewish), Bartolomea thrusts a hand straight into Benedetta’s butt from behind. In response, Benedetta has an instant public view of being attacked by vengeful snakes, who are then slaughtered to pieces by Hot Jesus, who embraces her again. Later, she dreams of being raped by soldiers, just before Hot Jesus arrives and cuts off their heads with a sword.
Angry with Bartolomea for making her suddenly and spontaneously gay, Benedetta forces her future lover to dip her hand into a pot of boiling water under the auspices of punishing her for a harmless mistake. This turns Bartolomea on, which makes a lot of sense, and the two begin sex almost immediately, which begins with Bartolomea stroking her left breast through the sheer curtain in the middle of the night (with the vanity being that Benedetta has just received a “Bigger and new heart” of Jesus which she needs Bartolomea to experience for herself, much like a new car.)
➼ In a subplot that is rarely explained, another nun is constantly bleeding from her left breast. Left breasts are important in this movie.
➼ Benedetta and Bartolomea, finally alone because Benedetta was promoted in the convent to literally be Jesus and therefore has her own dormitory, have sex for the first time in a way that suggests they both watched lots of porn from the early 2000s. Both have perfect pubic hair triangles, bodies that appear to be slimmed down by Gwyneth Paltrow’s favorite personal trainer, Tracy Anderson, and both possess a sense of steamy sexual adventure. which contradicts their 17th century virginity and the pervasive terror of being put to death by the church. (Yes, there is a light fisting and an extremely confident oral.) When Benedetta has an orgasm, she screams, “My God! and “Sweet Jesus! “
➼ One of the nuns casually cuts a spy hole in a cement wall, perfectly placed to witness the high level lesbian sex on display.
➼ After Benedetta complains that Bartolomea did not hit her deeply enough, Bartolomea gives Benedetta a gift: a statue of the Virgin Mary saved from her childhood, given by her mother, which Bartolomea carved into the shape of a dildo, but still with the head of the Virgin Mary. She fucks her with it and everyone is delighted, including Paul Verhoeven, who takes obvious pleasure in shooting the little head of the Virgin Mary who comes in and out.
➼ More than one nun dies by theatrical suicide.
➼ Charlotte Rampling calls Benedetta a “lying whore”.
Someone who will remain anonymous is punished with a horrific gynecological torture device called “the pear”.
There is a comet.
Someone is vomiting blood.
➼ One of the pregnant emissaries of the nuncio of Florence boasts, in front of a mixed company, of producing milk and then withdrawing her breast and squirting it in her face.
➼ Benedetta masturbates in front of a pissed off Bartolomea, then bursts into hysterical tears as she receives an instant message from Hot Jesus.
➼ Charlotte Rampling must describe, in great detail, the wooden dildo of the Virgin Mary to a jury made up of her church peers.