Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Outdated Sacrilege

Benedetta (2021) - Verhoeven Screen Shot 2021-11-17 at 2.01.19 PM There were Catholics demonstrating outside Film at Lincoln Center during the screenings of Benedetta, calling it a sacrilege. They really should focus more on pedophile priests. Please Catholics, picket at the churches and the residence of pedophile priests and bishops and grow some thick skin. You are way too sensitive, because Verhoeven's new nunsploitation is not half as outrageous or sacrilegious as you claim it to be. However, Benedetta shows the church's hypocrisy as it existed in the Middle Ages and begs the question - who is to say that there is only one way to serve god?

Benedetta, a daughter of a wealthy merchant, enters the convent in the town of Pescia in Tuscany. The convent is like an expensive private school for rich girls back then, paying top dowry to be married to a church/Jesus. As a child, Benedetta has a very active imagination and thinks Jesus speaks to her.

Eighteen years has passed and Benedetta is fully grown woman, played by Virginie Efira, the Abbess Felicia (Charlotte Rampling) and her daughter Christina (Louise Chevillotte), a nun in the same convent, see Benedetta as a growing threat to their grip on power. After a commoner Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) was spared and welcomed into the convent at the mercy of Benedetta and her rich parents, the two women develop a sexual relationship. This is the time when Benedetta shows the signs of stigmata and having vivid visions of hot, sword wielding Jesus protecting her. The local high priest declares Benedetta the new abbess after Benedetta shows the signs of stigmata and speaking of prophesies in a different voice, despite Felicia and Christina's doubts. Now Benedetta and Bartolomea can freely enjoy their sexual escapades with a hand carved dildo, made out of the Virgin Mary statuette. But what about the peephole you say? Oh, did I mention this is the time of the plague?

Benedetta is neither as scandalous nor provocative as one might think. Whether she faked her Stigmata or her resurrection, who is to judge her devotion to god? Escaping punishment for her sacrilege - burning at the stake, Benedetta goes back to her convent and stays there until her death, the prologue tells us.

As a film, Benedetta is not subliminal enough to be taken seriously, nor scintillating or flirty enough even for Verehoven standards. Sure there are plenty of nudity but the subject seems tame and dated for 21st century standards. Verhoeven is more often than not, only a few directors who can have the cake and eat it too. But he is no Ken Russell.