Written by Taylor Baker
Few director’s filmographies are quite as varied in story and so consistent in theme as Paul Verhoeven. The director of RoboCop and Starship Troopers latest film Benedetta recounts a somewhat heightened version of the story of Sister Benedetta who joined the Pescian Convent in the 1600’s. More commonly known as the new lesbian nun movie, there’s a lot more going in the film, but that boiled down synopsis certainly encapsulates much of the narrative at play.
The film begins with Benedetta as a young girl on her way to the convent with her family. They encounter a rag tag group of bandits and after Benedetta’s mother’s necklace is stolen she insists that God will curse them. The one eyed man who’d stolen her mother’s necklace proceeds to get his lone eye pooped in by a bird nearly as soon as the words leave Benedetta’s mouth. Thus we’re introduced to someone who is quite possibly favored by or in tune with God.
Charlotte Rampling plays the Pescian Convent’s Reverend Mother. Who negotiates the prices that father’s must pay for their daughters dowries. After one such negotiation Benedetta is admitted to the Sisterhood, stripped out of her celebratory dress and of her Holy Mother totem. Benedetta seems a devout child between the bird poop miracle and her being pinned and unhurt after a large statue of the Holy Mother falls upon her. It continues to seem that she may indeed be favored by God.
After a number of years pass in mere moments within the film Benedetta saves a young woman named Bartolomea who flees her father by running into the shelter of the convent. Benedetta’s father must once again pay a dowry to the Reverend Mother. Bartolomea and Benedetta begin to become entangled and entranced with each other quickly. Observing one anothers nude bodies behind sheer sheets of linen hanging between their respective sleeping quarters. Their looks through those fabrics convey forbidden desire and longing.
These lustings mature to full sexual encounters before long with Benedetta becoming the Reverend Mother and Bartolomea seemingly her assistant or handmaiden of sort. Previous taboo idols are made into sexual implements, leading to a trial, torture, and plague. Verhoeven’s Benedetta seems formulaic and distinctly his own upon completion. But it’s many moments of intimacy, lust, belief, betrayal, and desire linger far more than it seemed they would during the runtime. Making not just the film but the performances of Virginie Efira and Daphne Patakia memorable.
Benedetta will be available in limited theatrical starting 12/3 and will be available on VOD 12/21.