From poop jokes to unconventional sex toys, Benedetta is full of surprises. It pulls you into the exploration of the true story of a lesbian nun that eventually was imprisoned for life.
The film had its premiere at Cannes with an impactful response from attendees. It earned a five-minute standing ovation as well as divisive reviews. Paul Verhoeven took it upon himself to adapt and direct the picture, marking his return to the Festival de Cannes after 2016’s Elle. Many might have known what they were about to endure once they knew it was a Verhoeven picture. But that did not stop those that attended the screening out of curiosity.
As a director, he is no stranger to descriptors such as “racy” and “provocative.” When it comes to Benedetta, it is not without question that it is clearly a cynical farce about the exploration of the matters of religion at hand. Many moments even earned brisk laughter from the audience. However, Verhoeven loses himself to the overzealous exploration of the female body as well as the mutilation of it.
Benedetta Carlini (Virginie Efira) is a woman who has vivid visions about men at their most violent. She is set up to find salvation at the hands of her potential lover Bartolomea (Daphne Batakia). What instead ensues is a cat and mouse chase that rubs off less as romantic and more as forceful and aggressive. Many of the interactions between both women oftentimes cross the line of harassment when engaging in the nonconsensual events presented. Eventually, Benedetta gives in to her desires and to Bartolomea. What follows is the clear sensationalization of the female body purely for spectacle.
Most likely, Verhoeven’s intention was to showcase the naturality of sexuality, and how it should not be censored. The result is a misunderstanding of true female nature. The women are merely puppets to the male gaze. To an extent, the supposed celebration of sexuality outshines the deeper meaning of ridiculing the belief system of organized religion.
One might defend Verhoeven’s piece given that it adapts the work of Judith C. Brown’s Immodest Acts: The Life of A Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. Having a blueprint, however, isn’t enough when a story leaves the viewer feeling incomplete once the journey has finished. Benedetta has no clear intentions. It isn’t clear who she is as a person until the very end of the film.
Benedetta is ultimately a meaningless melodrama following the story of a woman that loses herself to her ego and the consequences she faces for perceiving herself as greater than those around her. – Josie Meléndez
Benedetta‘s release date has yet to be announced.
The film stars Virginie Efira, Daphne Patakia, and Charlotte Rampling.