Paul Verhoeven Benedetta live review


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Picture: IFC Movies (via 42West)

The story of the Renaissance-era Italian nun, Benedetta Carlini, holds mysteries like the blood of the stigmata, but her narrative appeal is not one of them: the pursuit of influence, the swindle and the Carlini’s homosexuality imbues his story with a surprising modernism. Look under his coat and you will see that despite the four centuries that separate us, we are not that different, after all. It was only a matter of time before someone brought their story to the screen.

That someone turned out to be Paul Verhoeven, the director / provocateur whose flirtation with the absurd more than once led to a full makeup session with camp (he’s the one in charge of Primary instinct and Showgirls). In case you missed his name on the opening tracks of his tirelessly entertaining Benedetta, Verhoeven reminds you of his presence when, on the way to the convent that will become the home of Benedetta, the child’s family is accosted by thieves, and a bird shits on one of their faces as a kind of divine intervention . In the next scene, as Benedetta’s family arrive in Pescia, we see a street performance of a man setting his farts on fire. It’s not five minutes in the movie. From the start, the mischievous Verhoeven makes it clear that he’s the director’s equivalent of fabric softener on what hands could be a starchy period piece.

Verhoeven and David Birke, who wrote She, adapted Benedetta by Judith C. Brown’s Shameless acts: the life of a lesbian nun in Renaissance Italy. In her introduction, Brown recalls coming across documents related to Carlini’s case while researching the State Archives in Florence. Carlini’s claims of visions and stigmata have led to an investigation by the church. Entering a convent at the age of 9, at the time of her first investigation in 1619, Carlini, then 30, had built up a considerable following thanks to her sermons, which she was authorized to deliver (a rarity for a woman) the account of the trances she experienced. A second investigation yielded a revelation from her sister and partner for years, Bartolomea Crivelli, who told authorities she had had sexual contact with Carlini “at least three times a week” for more than two years. Crivelli described mutual masturbation with Carlini to orgasm and described many encounters as being forcibly initiated by Carlini. Aside from this disturbing detail, the story retains great historical value for the mere fact of its existence. Brown writes that at the time, homosexual contact between women was even less recognized than among men: “Crimes that could not be named therefore literally had no name and left little record in the historical record. Although this was essentially a secondary note in an investigation that led to a 35-year prison sentence (more likely due to Carlini’s monastic status, his claims of miraculous favors, and his notoriety as of her sexual transgressions), Carlini’s repeated sexual contact with another woman is what makes her story so exceptional and precious.

In short, there was a lot going on with Carlini, and there was a lot going on in Bendetta, although the latter bears only a cursory resemblance to the life of the former, as detailed by Brown. Birke and Verhoeven have crafted a melodrama that frequently falters on the delicious girl-girl wickedness of Showgirls: Benedetta presents herself as superior, gains followers outside the walls of the convent and some of her sisters demolish her. Woven in the film are elements mentioned by Brown that don’t directly apply to Carlini’s story – a mother / daughter pair of nuns in the convent (a common thread facing widowhood), on the one hand. For another: Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) makes a dildo from the statue of the Virgin Mary that Benedetta (Virginie Efira) has owned since her childhood. This makes his sodomy gambling crime more serious than it likely has been in real life, not only because of the outrageous sacrilege involved in desecrating such a statue, but because, as Brown notes, “The use of such ‘material instruments’ was for many officials the worst possible act of sodomy. The (completely consensual) affair of Benedetta and Bartolomea is discovered by the abbess whom Benedetta ends up overthrowing when her claims of visions and stigmata return the credulity of the holy men of the neighborhood (Felicita played by Charlotte Rampling). Felicita watches Bartolomea use her Blessed Virgin dildo on Benedetta through a hole in the wall of Benedetta’s quarters. In reality, Carlini was reportedly observed carving her own stigmata by one of her sisters through a hole in her office door, but in the film she tends to carve her stigmata quite openly. As a child, we see Benedetta praying in front of a statue of a nursing Virgin. After he falls directly on her, she cranes her neck to suckle the breast of the statue before being rescued by her sisters. Needless to say, there is no trace of such a hilarious foreshadowing in Brown’s book.

Benedetta is Verhoeven’s film first, and Carlini’s story later. Because Verhoeven is furiously entertaining, there’s a lot here online with ’70s sexploitation, especially, of course, the non-sploitation sub-genre. Verhoeven, who wrote a book on Jesus, is fascinated by the fact that some Catholic rituals resemble SM: after Christina (Louise Chevillotte) shouts the blasphemy of Benedetta during a meal, she is forced to flog herself in penance in front of the convent. Benedetta and Bartolomea watch, clearly delighted that an opponent is getting his due… and maybe also slightly excited. There is a similar fascination with the body – Benedetta and Bartolomea poop next to each other (after Benedetta asks Bartolomea to lower her voice, Bartolomea farts, smiles and says: “It’s okay, j ‘hope’) and when Felicita visits the nuncio (Lambert Wilson) in Florence to slaughter once and for all Benedetta, a pregnant woman already breastfeeding who takes care of him squirts her milk in the direction of the nun. These are reminders of the inherent rudeness of the body. If the church has devoted at least part of its time to suppressing the body and its inclinations, well, that’s no big deal for them, at least not in Verhoeven’s universe. Carlini may have believed her own visions, or she may have invented them entirely for power. Brown’s book notes that the Abbess of the Convent claimed that during one of her ecstasies, publicity-obsessed Benedetta said, “Why don’t these ungrateful people want my treasure to be discovered? I will let other people know outside and bring them in from afar. It doesn’t take such faith or familiarity with dogma to believe Crivelli’s story of the sexual contact she had with Carlini. The body trumps other parts of Carlini’s story, however fascinating they are.

Verhoeven and Birke’s script is unusually funny for a period candlelight play. When Bartolomea enters the convent, imploring to be taken in, the abbess immediately asks for her dowry. This was usually paid for by the families of the girls and women entering the convent, but tended to be much less than a marriage dowry. “A convent is not a place of charity, my child. You have to pay to come here, ”says Felicita, seemingly oblivious to the irony. Rampling receives a handful of these tongue-in-cheek lines, and her Abbess strikes the perfect balance between domineering and compassionate.

It all ends with a riot in the town square of Pescia, which brings to the fore the backdrop of the bubonic plague. It’s a suitably explosive, wholly invented verhoevian climax. The director can’t help but add other fantastic details to the Carlini myth – the postscript at the end of the film claims the plague spared Pescia, as Carlini had promised his followers. This is not entirely true – it spared Pescia for a while, but as Brown writes, “in 1631 the plague did hit Pescia, leaving behind a small population and empty houses where once lived. prosperous families “. Fictional verhoeven here and everywhere Benedetta wraps a story of potential deception in even more layers. Everything is at our service. Like his hero Carlini, Verhoeven understands that in order to tell a good story that commands attention, sometimes you have to stretch the truth.

Benedetta is featured at this year’s New York Film Festival.

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