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With: Virginie Efira, Charlotte Rampling, Daphné Patakia, Lambert Wilson, Olivier Rabourdin
Written by: David Birke, Paul Verhoeven, based on a book by Judith C. Brown
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 131
Date: 12/02/2021
IMDB

Benedetta (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Nun of Your Business

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Paul Verhoeven returns with this totally off-the-rails drama, exploring both faith and belief as well as sex and violence, that rivals even his most controversial movies: Basic Instinct and Showgirls.

As a girl, Benedetta Carlini, who believes she has a direct connection with Mother Mary, is brought to live in a convent. As a young woman (Virginie Efira), she has visions of Jesus that cause her to act peculiarly in front of the other nuns. One day, Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) arrives; she's a shepherd's daughter, abused by her father, and seeking asylum.

Benedetta and Bartolomea find an instant connection, and the newcomer kisses Benedetta on the mouth. Benedetta's visions grow stronger, and she even begins bleeding from her hands and feet (the stigmata). She's promoted to Abbess, and she and Bartolomea share a larger, private quarters, where their forbidden sexual relationship flowers. But outside the convent walls, the Black Plague spreads across the land.

Verhoeven presents the French-language Benedetta as surprisingly straightforward, even kicking off with the claim that it's based on true events. Yet even as it reaches high for powerful themes, it dives down below the belt into exploitation elements so silly they're shocking, and vice-versa. There's an obsession with female breasts (the left one in particular), and obvious attempts at subversive imagery, such as the Virgin Mary statuette carved into a sex toy, as well as graphic, gratuitous sex scenes galore. Benedetta's visions of Jesus look like the painted covers of cheesy romance novels.

But Verhoeven has a point. The movie continuously explores themes of faith in surprising ways. The first Abbess (Charlotte Rampling) insists that true faith can only come from suffering, and that suffering, indeed, is something that one should actually pray for. Another nun explains that "your body is your own worst enemy" and "intelligence can be dangerous." All of these things seem to go against the very idea of life itself, and when Benedetta begins to gain power through her smarts and her seeking of pleasure, she seems to become something rather divine.

In the 1970s, a subgenre dubbed "Nunsploitation" attempted to clash strict religious beliefs with the carnal, and Verhoeven does precisely that again with Benedetta, but with his own unique style.

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