Benedetta was the subject of a review at the New York Film Festival, where it had its world premiere. It will debut in theaters on December 3.
Master provocateur Paul Verhoeven – known for his erotic thrillers Showgirls and Primary instinct, but also for biting science fiction satires Robocop and Starship Troopers – returns for the first time in five years with Benedetta, a period biopic in French that is much less concerned with facts and details, and much more with questions of spirit and flesh. Set in 17th-century Tuscany, the film chronicles the rise and fall of Benedetta Carlini, a Catholic abbess whose loss, according to some historical accounts, was due to her high selfishness, although most attribute it to her relationship lesbian with another nun, Sister Bartolomé. The blasphemous subject is right there in Verhoeven’s alley, and it creates a suitably salacious piece. There may not be anything new to say about religion or desire, but her presentation of sexual and political power makes 127 minutes incredibly enjoyable.
As a child, young Benedetta has a unique relationship with the Virgin Mary, whose statuette seems to grant her mystical wishes. This opens an important path for her bourgeois family, who can enroll her in a prestigious convent under the tutelage of Sister Felicita (Charlotte Rampling), with a stone face, in return for a substantial dowry, which qualifies Benedetta as “Christ’s bride. . From the outset, the film takes place at the hypocritical intersection of money, power and religion, which feel so intrinsically linked here that even Benedetta’s supposed miracles are seen, above all, as a means to political purposes. The overall plot is constantly warped by these larger forces, but a more intimate story emerges just as quickly, when a newly recruited Benedetta is educated, in no uncertain terms, that she shouldn’t feel comfortable in. her skin (“Your worst enemy is your body,” she says).
After this brief prologue, the main story begins 18 years after Benedetta’s stint in the Abbey, where her waking thoughts are often consumed by bizarre visions of a heroic Christ, who appears to her as a knight and slays snakes with his sword, as if protecting her from biblical sin. It’s incredibly absurd and so much fun to watch. Benedetta is played, as an adult, by Virginie Efira, whose alchemy with Bartolomea actress Daphne Patakia is immediately palpable as soon as the latter arrives. Bartolomea, a traumatized and brutal newcomer to the convent, does not hide her feelings for Benedetta, who quickly finds herself drawn into bed and tempted to come out of her behavior with forceful reserve.
The film wastes little time for the characters to find excuses to be alone, as their journey is not so much about discovery or innocent intimacy as it is how their explosive sexualities are quickly mapped to the existing structures in and around the convent. . The story they tell is, by and large, a story already unfolding around them, in silent gazes and quiet power games elsewhere, only their side of the story being told with their bodies. Efira and Patakia light up the screen as their characters are immersed in ecstasy, and as their story progresses, each subsequent sexual encounter becomes an opportunity for Benedetta to let go of her ambition and exercise new forms of power. .
Director of photography Jeanne Lapoirie brings a skillful and measured eye to these sequences. Its camera never backs away from nudity – that would defeat a story of characters breaking free from bodily shame – but its lighting subtly draws our gaze to the characters’ faces during sexual acts, no matter what. ‘there is in the frame. However, their naked bodies are illuminated evenly during scenes where their physique and the way they move around the screen is believed to signify a change. Sometimes nudity is playful, as Benedetta and Bartolomea’s antics mean ever-increasing comfort. Other times, it becomes an opportunity for Efira to hang out and stand above Patakia, and for Benedetta to take control of their sexual dynamics, just as she begins to move up the ranks of the hierarchy. ‘abbey.
These stories of sexual and political power run parallel to each other, and their clash proves to be a source of personal conflict for Benedetta – a woman as committed to Christ as she is to herself – but the film rarely explores their larger overlap in any meaningful way. thematic sense (despite a particularly provocative use of the image of the Virgin Mary). He often sidesteps the exploration of the intersection of suffering with religion and sexuality, but his examples of spiritual and physical masochism are barely woven together, despite the presence of self-flagellation rituals; the extent of Verhoeven’s commentary on the question is limited to ephemeral and tacit exchanges. However, the fleeting nature of the edit does wonders for the film’s surprisingly vivid dialogue, which takes conversations about spirituality and pairs them with a piercing snark. Slowing down and lingering on these exchanges would be a disservice, given how relentlessly funny the movie ends up being.
Despite his lack of meaningful visual exploration, Benedetta is beautiful to watch.
Despite her lack of meaningful visual exploration, Benedetta is gorgeous to watch, from the way her dark, candlelit bedrooms light up sweat and body contours, to how her blood-red, ridiculous washout for multiple scenes matches up with the volatile performance of Efira. Benedetta is a woman caught between madness and liberation. When uttering sacred edicts, she does so in a voice that may or may not be her own, offering Efira and the actors around her the chance to perform in a wonderfully theatrical space, where opera is allowed to perform. collide with the naturalist, and where there are few limits to what a performance can achieve. When Benedetta takes poses and positions reminiscent of religious paintings, Efira straddles a delicate line, radiating Christ-like mercy while allowing brief displays of opportunism to pierce her sacred veil.
Benedetta’s sneaky way of recreating biblical imagery calls into question the nature of that imagery in the first place. This simple idea is perhaps Verhoeven’s most outspoken criticism of religious institutions – how sacred can anything really be, if it can be so easily ape and bastard? – but the film’s inevitable backlash is much more likely to come from its unabashed displays of sensuality and unashamed sense of physical freedom in a religious context, a criticism that ends up being much more nuanced and self-confident than broad statements on iconography religion.
A 17th-century nun in Italy suffers from disturbing religious and erotic visions. She is helped by a companion, and the relationship between the two women turns into a romantic love story.