Deliriously provocative, gloriously lurid, gleefully profane, riotously scandalous and unabashedly hyper-violent, Benedetta possessed all the archetypes associated with Paul Verhoeven’s best-known works. That his ability to shock, cause outrage, and smash the boundaries of sexual morality remains so spectacularly undiminished even at the age of 82, should be enough of put many to shame. Loosely adapted from a non-fiction with an incendiary title that must’ve made Verhoeven chuckle with delight, viz. Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by Judith C. Brown, it followed the extraordinarily turbulent and controversial life of 17th century Catholic nun, mystic and abbess Benedetta Carlini. Virginie Efira, who’d featured in a supporting turn in the filmmaker’s outstanding last movie Elle, gave a stunning performance – through terrific interplay between controlled precision and explosive bursts – as an overly devout twenty-something nun in a convent in Pescia run by the weary Felicita (Charlotte Rampling). Benedetta believes that she has a special connect with Jesus – bordering on the psycho-sexual, and sparked by bursts of disturbing, hallucinatory, grotesquely campy visions – and therefore the ability to perform miracles which’re often manifested through unsettling personality changes. And things become further unhinged when she embarks on a torrid affair with Bartolomea (Daphné Patakia), a feisty young newcomer with an abusive past. Facing charges of being a heretic and sexual deviant on one hand by the brazenly patriarchal church, and the distressing onslaught of the plague on the other, the irrepressible heroine becomes even more valiant – bolstered by her zealotry and flamboyant performative abilities – thus taking this fearlessly blasphemous, richly melodramatic and sumptuously photographed film, with charged feminist overtones and ferocious critique of religious hypocrisy, to a feverish pitch.
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Genre: Drama/Religious Drama/Biopic