Controversy and Paul Verhoeven are familiar with each other, whether it’s for a reveal in a shot that is talked about for years later, or for one of the most loved ‘so bad its good’ films made or for his subject matters of his later films. His latest, Benedetta, didn’t escape controversy when the film was selected for a festival in the US and the local Catholic group protested it. Even before all of this excitement, the premise alone attracted speculation and if we’re all being honest, titillation. But as always Verhoeven tricks us with this smoke screen of expectation that there will be something to shock us when in fact he delivers a thrilling story that happens to involve a lesbian nun who claimed to have visions of Jesus.

Sister Benedetta, having been brought to the Covent in Tuscancy at a young age, lives a devout life. But her visions of Jesus become more frequent and prominent, even more so with the arrival of a young peasant woman who is taken in by the Covent while trying to escape her abusive father. Bartolomea is immediately attracted to Benedetta and the latter tries to ignore her lust. As Benedetta’s visions become more violent leaving her with the stigmata markings, she is questioned as whether her connection with Jesus is real or not.

For those seeking simply a full-blown sexual fantasy with lesbian nuns will be sorely disappointed. There is far more to this religious saga about one nun’s beliefs than what you’ve been led to believe. The marketing machine sometimes like to focus on one thing. Benedetta is a carefully thought out religious focused experience. Whether you want to believe in a higher power or not, watching these people give over their lives to this faith is fascinating.

Going further than this just being about religion, the story unfolds untapped desires and the notion that we possibly give too much of ourselves away to others. Most often, it is the characters’ bodies. There is a line that Sister Jacopa says to a novice Benedetta when she complains about the scratchy material of their clothes, ‘Your worst enemy is your body, best not to feel at home in it.” It feels like a throwaway line but actually this resonates throughout the story. Whether it is about giving into lust or the wounds that the characters inflict on themselves, even in the visions Benedetta experiences, no one’s body is their own.

Verhoeven’s Benedetta, loosely based on a non-fiction novel about a real-life nun who did indeed have erotic visions of Jesus, captures both sides of religion. The pious and devout and then those who serve but do not fully believe. Choosing not to end the film in chaos which it so easily could have done, was unusual but it enables us to calm down and think rationally about what we have just witnessed. Anyone with an open mind will appreciate what Verhoeven has created.

Benedetta is released in cinemas 15th April

 

By KatieHogan

Katie has been writing about film for 10 years and joined the FH team back in 2016. Having been brought up on the classics from Empire Strikes Back to Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera, Katie has been obsessed with film since she was young and turned to writing about film after she immersed herself in her 6,000 word essay about the Coen Brothers.