Reviews Joyce Glasser Benedetto (April 15, 2022) Certificate 18, 132 min

Whether you like it or not Benedetto depends on how much you can maintain a sense of humor to a story that draws on scientific historical research to legitimize nudity, sexual exploitation and the recent flow of films about lesbian relationships.

We are told that the film is based on Judith C. Brown Immodest actions: the life of a lesbian nun in Renaissance Italy and even the names of two alleged historical lovers found in Brown’s research are used in the film. The story with its combination of fanatical faith and debauchery in the convent, and on the street raging plague, is certainly fascinating and visually exciting. However, like all adaptations, what happens to the source material depends on the director, in this case Paul Verhoeven (Elle, Showgirls, Basic Instinct) and screenwriter, in this case David Burke (She).

Although the Renaissance in Italy is before the 17th century, when history takes place, Mrs. Brown’s book seems to have been thoroughly researched. Little Benedetta Carlini (Elena Plonka), from a wealthy Italian family, enters a convent in the Tuscan city of Pescia in response to a promise her father Juliana (David Clavel) made to God when his sick child daughter was saved through prayer. An illustrative case on the way to the convent could have encouraged little Benedetta to rely on her passion and “special relationship” with Jesus to survive in a ruthless world.

A little girl gets out of the carriage to pray at the roadside statue of the Virgin Mary, who is kneeling in her fancy dress with a small wooden doll of the Virgin Mary in her arms. The family is suddenly surrounded by robbers, one of whom robs his sword from the mother of the necklace. Little Benedict orders the men to return the necklaces, otherwise the Blessed Virgin will punish them. While they laugh, the bird defecates in the swordsman’s eye, and superstitious thieves return the necklace and ride away.

We learn that the 17th-century monasteries were like lifelong boarding schools, and between Abbess Felicity (Charlotte Rampling, excellent) and Julian Carlini, there was a polite bargain over Benedetta’s dowry. The abbess has a trump card – “the bride of Christ is not worth more than 100 scudis?” – and wins.

Benedetta comes out unscathed after early bullying, loneliness, exchanging her silk dress for a place and taking off her Virgin Mary doll. She is armed with her piety, which has already led to some small miracles and the awe of other nuns. The skeptical abbess has her number, however, and warns Benedetto that she is smart, but intelligence can be dangerous.

We rewind 18 years ahead, and Benedetti’s family is present to celebrate her marriage (established, literally on stage, as a play of passion) with Jesus at a banquet funded by Mr. Carlini. On a holiday, the incident changes Benedetta’s life forever, when the beautiful, albeit dirty and untidy girl Bartholomew (Daphne Patakia) breaks into a convent to escape from her sexually abusive peasant father. Pitying the girl, Benedetta persuades her father to pay Bartholomew’s dowry so that she can escape from her predatory father (he was also repaid).

Benedetta’s frequent visions of the beautiful Jesus, who is her savior, tormentor, and seducer (“wherever I am, there can be no shame”) correspond to her initially cautious reaction to Bartholomew’s sexual harassment.

Benedetta’s awakened sexuality brings her closer to God, especially during one “vision” when Jesus on the cross awakens her and calls her to himself. She steps on the cross to make her arms and legs match it so that their two bodies relate. Shortly afterwards she appears in a stunned convent with physical signs of stigmata. Verhoeven manages to present these episodes ambiguously, but it’s hard to imagine a woman who intentionally cuts holes in her arms and feet and doesn’t die of sepsis or scream in agony for weeks without morphine or local A&E, neither available . to a quickly surviving nun.

When the local bishop confirmed the stigmata, Benedetto was elevated to abbess and given to Felicity’s large private room. Here Bartholomew finds and uses an old carved doll of the Virgin Mary to infiltrate her beloved virgin. While Felicity warns her outraged illegitimate daughter Christina (Louise Shevillot) about the decision, Christina speaks openly about Benedetta’s unclean sex and her suspect claims holiness. When the plague rages in the street, the townspeople return Benedetta, hoping she will spare them. We learn that the plague has indeed passed the Infantry, but not before the nuncio-womanizer (Lambert Wilson) is trying to burn Benedetto at the stake.

While the story is based on Brown’s fictional book, it’s interesting that adult Benedetta plays Virginia Ether (Impossible love, for love), which had a small but significant role in She, Verhoeven’s latest film, written by David Burke, starring Isabella Huppert, a woman of the same name who also played with dangerous sexual fantasies. Ether plays the maternal, passionate Catholic wife of the rapist El, but her role in her husband’s messy sex life is a surprise in the film.

Perhaps Verhoeven and Burke knew about Brown’s book at the time of its creation Sheand they had already found their pious beauty for Benedetta when they filmed Ether in this 2015 film. Again, Verhoeven could see the release of Catholic writer-director Ulrich Seidl in 2013, Heavenly Faith. In this disturbing, deeply disturbing film, a lonely middle-aged Austrian mistress, married to a disabled person, is dedicated to Jesus, an unhealthy obsession that blurs the line between holiness and masochistic perversity.

Seidel’s film, part of a difficult but powerful trilogy, never feels as exploitative as free sex and nudity in Benedetto. Until the end, Benedetto feels and looks like Ken Russell has risen to make a sequel to the film Devils established in the Infantry.

Nun of this…Nun of that

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