Film Review – Benedetta

Benedetta (MA)

Directed by: Paul Verhoeven

Starring: Virginie Efira, Charlotte Rampling, Daphne Patakia

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

The story of a nun’s sexual awakening in the hands of provocateur Paul Verhoeven? Buckle in because you just know that you are going to witness things that others have not had the audacity to show on film before.

In Italy during the 17th century, Benedetta (Virginie Efira) dedicates her life to the Catholic religion and becomes a practicing nun in a small convent in Tuscany.

She has always felt an affinity with the Virgin Mary, even from a very young age, and as an adult, has intense dreams about her “husband” Jesus (Jonathan Couzinie) – it is as if religion is in her veins.

But when Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) arrives at the convent to escape her abusive husband, the two embark on an intensely sexual relationship and indulge in some eye-opening sex-play in secret.

Meanwhile Benedetta begins to show signs of Stigmata, which the Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling) questions.

Highlighting the hypocrisy, corruption and restrictions that are rampant in religion, Verhoeven paints some broad strokes as he sexes up the screen once again. This features Verhoeven’s signature bold and in your face theatrics, letting the camera capture what other, more prudish directors, would shy or cut away from – but this also has genuine humour sprinkled in among the lurid and exploitative elements.

What happens to a small, wooden Virgin Mary statue will definitely raise eyebrows.

And as per usual, Verhoeven has collated a fine cast who are up for the task of delivering fine performances to ground the wildly outrageous material, especially when it threatens to go into full Showgirls trash territory.

Perhaps Verhoeven has some more pointed commentary he is trying to make – it is possible I was too caught up in the taboo imagery he is showing us (it’s hard not too!) to decipher, but the fact that I have not been able to shake this film in the several weeks since seeing it is a testimony to his film making skills.

Sure he likes to shock and provoke, but to still be able to after so many decades is impressive.

Benedetta screens as part of Perth Festival Lotterywest Films, which runs until April 3, 2022.

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