A lurid account of the scandalous life of Benedetta, a ruthlessly Machiavellian lesbian nun who causes convent chaos in 17th century Italy. Consumed by carnal lust, she instigates a power struggle to mask her indiscretions and preserve her standing as a future bride of Christ.
Her superiors feel threatened and initiate a witchhunt to debunk her claims of divine protection and expose her ungodly practices. As the tension escalates and the search for proof in the form of a profoundly blasphemous dildo intensifies, Benedetta deems all around her as expendable in her quest for impunity.
Paul Verhoeven revisits the plague-ridden Europe he first explored in 1985’s brutally epic Flesh+Blood with stupefyingly offensive results. Near relentless in its jaw-dropping spiciness, it represents a ruthless campaign of blind faith carpet bombing with a scorched earth policy towards theological hypocrisy.
Just as Tarantino repossessed and repurposed his most blatant thematic and stylistic trademarks for Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, Verhoeven pillages components of his own iconic oeuvre and spurts them with lustrous glee into the oviducts of this insane biopic.
The statuesque symbolism and grubby menace of Flesh+Blood. The bitchy soap operatics, hyperbolic humping, and gaudy camp of Showgirls. The mean-spirited mega violence and lean cynicism of RoboCop. The uncomfortable sexual politics and peephole voyeurism of Basic Instinct. The quotable one-liners and kinetic set pieces of Total Recall. The panoramic bloodshed, designer fascism, and thinly veiled homoeroticism of Starship Troopers.
Whether or not these past triumphs, many instances of which are cemented in pop culture, travel well back in time to Renaissance Italy, or indeed resurge without recompense in modern cancel culture, will be in the eye of the beholder. However, no accusations of a derivative nature can seriously be levelled at the director. After all, he is firing plagiaristic projectiles at the screen from the barrel of his own cinematic canon.
That being said, the reimagining of Sharon Stone’s meaty game of vaginal Peek A Boo should elicit a wry smile from all-comers. Also, the goriest examples of kicking ass for the lord since Peter Jackson’s Braindead and saviour-based bloodbath Fist of Jesus should delight and amuse without exception.
The visuals are as sleek as the screenplay is schlocky, with beautifully judged performances from a cast that bares their acting chops almost as fervently as their buttocks. Pace-wise, Benedetta refuses to take a breather from poking eschatological hornets’ nests and is truly breath-taking in its breadth of scattergun progressiveness.
At times, it plays like a saturnine Carry On movie in that if you are not offended, mortified, or titillated by one particular bawdry puddle the constant downpour of depravity makes double sure there is another one to splash around in soon enough.
If all this sounds a little superficial and cerebrally threadbare then that’s because it is. What’s more, that is exactly what makes it so darn entertaining. The film’s direct approach and lack of pretentious posturing within an arthouse framework feel both fresh and dangerous.
Yet, there is also a steady stream of philosophical subtext and emblematic symbolism to unpick beneath the melodramatic histrionics and convulsive sensationalism. Indeed, Benedetta is at its most thrilling when realpolitiking the double standard demonisation of homosexuality within archaic belief systems.
At 83, Verhoeven has lost none of the spunk that made both his name and over $1 billion worldwide. As such, he has unleashed the most purely entertaining mainstream genre flick of the year.
Historical Drama, Erotic Biography | France/Belgium/Netherlands | 2021 | 131 min | Cert. 18 | IFC Films| Dir. Paul Verhoeven | With: Virginie Efira, Charlotte Rampling, Daphné Patakia