Same-sex Love In A Monastery: Why The Film Benedetta (2021) By Paul Verhoeven? What Is The Film (plot Analysis) About, What Real Events Is It Based On, Why Was It Banned In Russia?
Year of production: 2021
Country: France, Netherlands
Genre: Biographical, Drama, Historical
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Virginia Efira, Daphne Patakia, Lambert Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Hervé Pierre, Olivier Rabourdin
The film of the famous director Paul Verhoeven Benedetta was banned in the Russian box office. For several days, this scandalous event pushed even the Duma elections out of the news agenda. The Ministry of Culture explained that the film contains a provocative scene, “which is regarded as a violation of the law on freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and religious associations.” The representative of the Synodal Department of the Moscow Patriarchate spoke even more harshly: “This is pornography.”
What is so shocking managed to remove the 83-year-old living classic Verhoeven? Let’s talk about what the film Benedetta is about, its philosophy and meaning. And about what plot twists and scenes this drama was banned in Russia.
Paul Verhoeven is the same hooligan director who shot Sharon Stone without underwear in the movie Basic Instinct. Then he worked on the drama “Showgirls” about strippers. This controversial film was first given the “Golden Raspberry” as the worst film, and then recognized as a cult.
Verhoeven was fascinated by the legend of the life of Jesus Christ. The director studied the Bible, participated in intellectual seminars about Jesus, was a co-author of a book about him. And he was even going to make a film called “Jesus: The Man.” The idea of the film is to give the legend of the God-man an anti-religious, “human” interpretation. But the project fell through.
Despite a keen interest in biblical topics, Paul Verhoeven is a staunch atheist. In the film Benedetta he blasphemes, blasphemies, includes erotic scenes on the edge and beyond, and spices it all with hopelessly black humor.
The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. He did not receive a prize, but became the loudest premiere of the festival.
What is the movie Benedetta about?
Italy, 17th century. The Catholic nun Benedetta (actress Virginie Efira) often dreams of the earthly beautiful heavenly bridegroom Jesus and dreams of him. These visions are treated with prayers and poppy decoction (the strongest opiate), and this makes Benedita’s dreams even more colorful.
One day, an attractive young Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) appears in the monastery, having escaped from her rapist father. She tries to get closer to Benedetta, is gentle and attentive to her, as if by chance shows her her flawless body, in general, exposes the nun to unbearable sinful temptations.
The inflamed Beneditta, during another night vision, clings to the crucified Christ and receives bleeding stigmata from him – deep wounds on the palms, the same as those of Jesus. Waking up, she discovers that the stigmata appeared in reality.
Frame from the film.
This miracle elevates an ordinary nun to the extraordinary heights of the church hierarchy. They are ready to declare her a saint, and her small Tuscan monastery – the center of Catholicism. Benedita becomes abbess of a convent.
In parallel, her passionate romance with Bartolomea develops. Their relationship is shown without cuts and omissions. There is a lot of nudity and obscenity here. But the nuns, of course, fail to hide their connection. Benedita arrested…
Frame from the film.
Based on real events
The plot of the film Benedetta is based on real events. The writers borrowed the plot from Renaissance historian Judith S. Brown’s Indiscreet Deeds: The Life of a Le*bian Nun in Renaissance Italy (1986).
The book tells the true story of an Italian nun, abbess Benedetta Carlini. She was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment for connection with the spirit, possession, criminal connection with another nun, and fraud – the abbess herself inflicted wounds on herself and passed them off as stigmata.
The plot of Benedetta is close to this story. But the real Benedetta, unlike the heroine of the film (who succumbed to the provocations of a nun in love), seduced Bartholomew herself, emphasizing that “God is love.”
The real Benedetta Carlini died in prison at the age of 70.
Benedetta Carlini. Illustration from the book by Judith S. Brown.
The meaning of the film
The film Benedetta is controversial and multi-layered, it can be interpreted in different ways and new meanings can be found in it. And certainly you should not take this tape as a frank f*ck, in which the plot is just a bunch of bed scenes.
Condemnation of the church and church dogmas
Benedetta is an anticlerical movie. The “holy” church is depicted as a totalitarian institution built on hypocrisy, pretense and violence, ruled by money and ambition.
The film denounces and ridicules not only the institution of the church, but the very essence of Christianity. We repeat: Verhoeven is a convinced atheist. He does not accept one of the central ideas of Christianity – about the sinfulness of the body and carnal love.
Frame from the film.
His Benedita is free in her feelings, her love takes many forms: these are fervent prayers, and Lebian games, and passion for Jesus as a man. Verhoeven sings of female beauty, love and freedom, including sexual.
Verhoeven harshly ridicules religious miracles. What, for example, is the “miracle” when Beneditta, as a child, saved her parents from a robber: she called a Divine sign – a bird that had come from nowhere pooped into the robber’s eye.
Beneditta is free, including in her sexual manifestations. This is a strong, beautiful woman who protests against church dogmas and any restrictions. It is no coincidence that Paul Verhoeven called the film after the name of the main character – “Benedetta”.
Frame from the film.
A radical manifestation of the film’s feminist idea: in a dream, the heroine takes off Christ’s loincloth and sees not a man, but a woman.
Beneditta is a thoughtful careerist
Beneditta can be considered passionate and sincere, but the film Benedetta may have another interpretation. Beneditta is an ambitious alpha woman, smart and thoughtful, who convinces everyone around her that she is communicating with the Lord. She produces herself, pursuing her ambitious goals.
Beneditta (actress Virginie Efira).
This interpretation echoes the plot of the historical book: the real Benedetta Carlini was indeed a careerist. According to interrogation protocols, she deliberately inflicted self-mutilation – “stigmata” in order to gain power and privileges.
At the same time, like many brilliant actresses, Beneditta gets used to her role so much that she no longer separates her own fiction from reality. She herself passionately believes in her chosenness and exclusivity.
Because of what scene banned the rental of Benedetta in Russia
The very idea of “forbidding” and “not letting go” when it comes to a work of art is repulsive. But the position of the Ministry of Culture in the situation with the Benedetta is quite understandable. Frank sexual scenes, including those with the participation of Jesus, Lebian passion, banter over religious dogmas and shrines – all this turned out to be too mach even for tolerant Cannes.
What can we say about patriarchal and conservative Russia, where even the film “Matilda” about Nicholas II caused an uproar. And devout director Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which almost literally retold the Bible, drew attacks from parishioners and Jewish organizations.
What kind of scene violates the law on freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, the ministry did not specify. But there are enough harsh provocations in the film. What is the scene with a wooden figurine of the Mother of God, which the heroine uses as a fal * imitator. As well as the dreams of the main character with the participation of Jesus and her real meetings with the young Bartholomea.
The rental of Benedetta, even with the stamp 18+, could not but cause a storm. However, Paul Verhoeven will survive this ban. The film has already collected more than 2.5 million dollars at the worldwide box office.