Review: 'Benedetta' is Ludicrous Fun Aiming to Offend Those Ready to Take Offense

by Kitty Drexel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday December 7, 2021

 Virginie Efira in 'Benedetta'
Virginie Efira in 'Benedetta'  (Source:IFC)

"Benedetta" is the latest film by raunchy camp film director and co-writer Paul Verhoeven (doula of cult classics such as "Basic Instinct," "Showgirls," and 1987's "RoboCop"). An IFC production, the film is based on Judith C. Brown's "Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy." It is produced by IFC Films.

The opening credits tell us that the movie is "inspired by real events." That is, the movie's creators took a true story and interpreted it so fantastically that the movie no longer resembles historical events.

I'd take it several steps further to say co-writers David Birke and Paul Verhoeven were inspired by Judith C. Brown's book. That Brown's book is an account of true events is immaterial to their creative process. These real events, and Brown's book, are credited as a matter of legality.

In 1619, Benedetta Carlini (Virginie Efira) joined the catholic order of Theatine convent Holy Mary of Pescia Italy. Carlini is investigated as a saint. She sees profane visions of Jesus and receives stigmata, the wounds Jesus received when he was crucified. Carlini begins a sexual and romantic relationship with a fellow sister, Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia). When church leadership investigates Carlini's sainthood, they begin an investigation into their lesbian relationship. Charlotte Rampling co-stars as the severe but sensitive abbess, Soeur Felicita.

"Benedetta" isn't an investigation of a relationship between two nuns as it is an excuse for casual female nudity, horny eye contact, and gratuitous slurping noises. It isn't a documentary or biopic. It's "Showgirls" fan fiction in 17 century Italy with nuns and visions instead of dancing. This movie isn't porn, but it could be if the creators tried harder.

The works that Verhoeven is famous for are in English. Benedetta Carlini was an Italian nun at the Theatine convent Holy Mary in Pescia, Italy. She spoke Italian. "Benedetta" is in French. It's utterly ludicrous for this movie to be in French. That is the point: "Benedetta" is to Catholicism as French arthouse film is to serious cinema. Verhoeven tells this tale of lesbian mystic nuns with gratuitous nudity, insistent dialogue, and ridiculous CGI to draw attention to the hypocrisies within the church. "Benedetta" contains truth, but shouldn't be misconstrued as the truth about the nun Carlini, catholicism, or religion at large. Verhoeven is lying to see if any truths stick out.

The cast of "Benedetta" take their work seriously, but they don't take the movie too seriously. Efira and Patakia create charismatic characters, but are fully aware that they are in a campy movie of low moral standing. Efira's work with CGI vipers, speaking in tongues, an almost-sex scene with Jesus on the cross (Jonathan Couzinié who, to his credit, does look like the white Jesus the Roman Catholic church likes to peddle), and actual sex scene with Patakia work with the film's edge, and not against it. Even Charlotte Rampling, as the powerhouse abbess Soeur Felicita, is aware that this movie is supposed to be fun. Part of the fun is offending those ready to take offense.

The Catholic church has taken offense. Reviews of "Benedetta" by church members make it clear that they don't appreciate how Verhoeven treats this would-be nun. That's okay. Many of us who grew up catholic are offended that the Church assumes that our same-sex, queer relationships are unhealthy, unholy, and require godly intervention corrections. It's not so fun when people hurt you because they can, is it?

"Benedetta" is currently in theaters and available to stream on Microsoft Store. It was released on December 3 after premiering at the New York Film Festival in September 2021. It runs for 126 minutes.