CANNES, France — Forgive them, Father, for they’ve sinned. Repeatedly! Creatively! And wait till you hear what they did with that Virgin Mary statuette.
The dangerous women I’m referring to are Benedetta and Bartolomea, two Seventeenth-century lesbian nuns on the heart of the new drama “Benedetta,” which debuted Friday on the Cannes Film Festival. It’s a scrumptious, sacrilegious provocation from Paul Verhoeven, the director of “Basic Instinct,” “Showgirls” and “Elle,” and at age 82, Verhoeven proves himself to be as frisky as ever.
Based on the Judith C. Brown nonfiction guide “Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy,” the movie follows Benedetta (Virginie Efira), a younger nun so satisfied that she is the bride of Christ that she even desires a couple of hunky, bare-chested Jesus flirting together with her. And why wouldn’t he? Benedetta is a blond bombshell who seems to be much less like a pious Seventeenth-century nun and extra like a Charlie’s Angel in disguise, and when the beautiful peasant Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) arrives on the convent, she begins making eyes at Benedetta, too.
Nun-on-nun motion ensues far sooner than you may anticipate, provided that this convent is lorded over by a strict mom superior (Charlotte Rampling) and Benedetta is liable to visions that finish with the manifestation of stigmata. But as her non secular ecstasy turns ever extra orgasmic, Benedetta ultimately finds a steamier, extra earthbound approach of chasing that top. “Jesus gave me a new heart,” she tells Bartolomea, exposing one breast. “Feel it.” (Look, they did foreplay very in another way within the Seventeenth century.)
Once their sexual relationship heats up, these nuns discover their habits straightforward to take off however laborious to interrupt. Eventually, a statuette of the Virgin Mary is whittled right into a intercourse toy and after Benedetta and Bartolomea, er, apply themselves to it, the viewers on the Cannes press screening applauded the movie’s blasphemous nerve. Verhoeven has at all times had a present for making the ridiculous really feel divine, and now the reverse holds true, too.
Still, on the information convention for “Benedetta,” Verhoeven insisted the scene wasn’t blasphemous in any respect.
“I don’t really understand how you can blaspheme about something that happened, even in 1625,” he mentioned, providing up excerpts from Brown’s guide. “You cannot change history, you cannot change things the happened, and I based it on things that happened.”
Perhaps, however Verhoeven’s model nonetheless offers the reality a bit of a makeover, since Benedetta and Bartolomea at all times appear to be sporting eye make-up, basis and lipstick. Though their faces are by no means nude, their our bodies often are, and wouldn’t it shock you to study that when these lithe nuns strip down, they’re as toned and well-manicured as a Playboy centerfold? In the convent, God could also be watching, however Verhoeven’s gaze trumps all.
If any viewers ding “Benedetta” for serving up non secular commentary with a facet of cheesecake, Verhoeven remained unbothered. “In general, when people have sex, they take their clothes off,” Verhoeven mentioned matter-of-factly. “I’m stunned, basically, how we don’t want to look at the reality of life.”
His actresses expressed no qualms about their intercourse scene. “Everything was very joyful when we stripped off our clothes,” Efira mentioned, whereas Patakia advised the information media that when Verhoeven is directing, “You forget you’re naked.”
Still, they by no means misplaced sight of simply how a lot they’d be required to push the envelope.
“I remember reading the script to myself and thinking, ‘There is not a single normal scene,’” Patakia mentioned. “There is always something destabilizing.” She added, “So, I immediately said yes.”