Director Paul Verhoeven has predicted outrage in the US over his ‘religiously sinful’ new lesbian ‘nunsploitation’ film Benedetta.
Verhoeven – who broke the ‘barrier of decency’ in mainstream movies with his leg-crossing scene in Basic Instinct – says he doesn’t think Benedetta ‘will be scandalous, at least not in Western Europe’.
The film is the story of a 17th century French nun who embarks upon an affair with another sister. It contains scenes of lesbian sex, self-flagellation, nun- on-nun kissing and nudity.
But the iconic director fears it could face backlash in the conservative US, where there is more ‘puritanism’, he said.
Director Paul Verhoeven has predicted outrage in the US over his ‘religiously sinful and absurdist’ new ‘nunsploitation film’ Benedetta (pictured)
Verhoeven (pictured at Cannes) – who broke the ‘barrier of decency’ in mainstream movies with his leg-crossing scene in Basic Instinct – says he doesn’t think the film ‘will be scandalous, at least not in Western Europe’
Benedetta premiered in the Cannes Film Festival yesterday to raving reviews – with critics dubbing it ‘erotic, violent, religiously sinful and absurdist’ and ‘the best movie about Catholicism since Scorsese’ Silence’.
This year’s festival has been hyped as ‘the reintroduction of Hollywood red carpet glamour’ to fans after the global pandemic stopped movie-going and cost the film industry billions in lost revenue.
Benedetta – which the octogenarian director has dubbed his masterpiece – is based on a true story about an abbess of the same name in Renaissance Italy who had a lesbian fling within her convent while experiencing ‘godly visions’ and being hailed a saint.
Benedetta is played by Belgian actress and former television presenter Virginie Efira. Her lover is portrayed by Daphne Patakia, another Belgian starlet.
The film is the story of a 17th century French nun who embarks upon an affair with another sister (pictured)
The cast of Benedetta are pictured, left to right: Clotilde Courau, Olivier Rabourdin, Virginie Efira, director Paul Verhoeven, Daphne Patakia and Louise Chevillotte
The script was based on historian Professor Judith C. Brown’s Immodest Acts: The Life Of A Lesbian Nun In Renaissance Italy, which was published in 1986.
Verhoeven told The Hollywood Reporter: ‘I don’t think the film will be scandalous — at least not in Western Europe.
‘Maybe Americans will see it differently, though. There is more puritanism in the US – I saw that with Basic Instinct, and even more with Show Girls.’
The trailer alone has caused consternation and cinemas are braced for protests.
In the video – which is less than two minutes long – a young novice nun takes a shower, her modesty ‘protected’ by only the flimsiest of transparent gauze curtains.
As the film’s lead character enters – in habit and wimple – the young nun ‘slips’, causing Benedetta to instinctively reach out, almost touching the novice’s naked breast before recoiling in pious shame.
A producer who works for one of the biggest studios in Hollywood said of the film: ‘Benedetta is competing for the Grand Prize at Cannes and it will have its world premiere there. It’s the centrepiece of the festival.
‘Sure it’s controversial but sex sells. At this point the studios have to get people back into movie theatres. It’s a matter of survival.
‘What better than a bit of titillating nunsploitation?’
The film (pictured) contains scenes of lesbian sex, self-flagellation, nun- on-nun kissing and nudity
One Hollywood PR told The Mail on Sunday: ‘You only have to look at the trailer for Benedetta.
‘There’s a graphic sex scene, nudity, flogging, titillation. This is Basic Instinct with wimples and crucifixes.’
Verhoeven has insisted that his latest movie is ’empowering’ to women.
He lauds Benedetta as an apt heroine for the #MeToo generation because she is a woman who embraced her sexuality at a time when being a lesbian could result in a woman being burned at the stake.
A source who has worked with the director said: ‘Paul’s a genius. This is his magnum opus.
‘People are quick to criticise him but his films have layer upon layer and they are hugely entertaining.
Benedetta premiered in the Cannes Film Festival yesterday to raving reviews
‘Sure, people remember Basic Instinct because of the nudity but you can watch that film today and it still holds up as a great piece of film-making nearly three decades later.
‘He is an auteur who takes risks and pushes the envelope. That’s what all great artists do.’
Verhoeven’s last film, Elle, released in 2016, was about a businesswoman who plays a psychological game of cat-and-mouse with the man who brutally raped her.
The critics loved it and it earned an Oscar nomination for lead actress Isabelle Huppert.
A senior executive with a major Hollywood studio said films such as Benedetta were vital to revive an industry that’s ‘dead on its feet’.
‘Hollywood studios are in dire trouble. The pandemic killed the movie theatres and people have got used to seeing new releases on streaming services in the comfort of their own home.
‘It has cost the industry billions and continues to do so.
‘We need to get people back into cinemas in order to survive.
‘We know there are certain movies, Marvel comic book heroes, for example, which will get younger audiences back in. But we need to appeal to a wider demographic. Films like Benedetta could save Hollywood.
‘The next 12 months will be make-or-break for Hollywood and that’s why films like this are vital for our survival. We need to reintroduce the magic of going to the movies.’
Critics dubbed Benedetta (left) ‘erotic, violent, religiously sinful and absurdist’ and ‘the best movie about Catholicism since Scorsese’ Silence’. Benedetta is played by Belgian actress and former television presenter Virginie Efira (right)
The story of Benedetta had attained mythical status in Italy and was passed down through generations.
But Prof Brown gave the story academic credibility by unearthing new documents in the state archives in Florence, which confirmed the authenticity of the story.
Born in 1591, Benedetta Carlini grew up in a respectable middle-class Italian family and entered The Convent of the Mother of God in Pescia, Tuscany, at the age of nine.
At the time in Renaissance Italy, middle-class families often ‘bought’ their daughters a place at a convent as it was a quarter of the cost of a marriage dowry and conferred respectability. Benedetta was made abbess of the convent at 30.
She reported ‘visions’ which came to her, including one in which Jesus asked to take her as his wife.
The story of Benedetta (the film, pictured) had attained mythical status in Italy and was passed down through generations
Other visions were more graphic and sexual. She would ‘speak’ in the voices of angels and underwent a mock marriage ceremony at the convent where only she could ‘see’ Jesus, her new husband.
She became a sensation with people flocking to see her and once showed stigmata on her hands –bleeding wounds similar to the ones the Bible says Christ suffered during the Crucifixion.
The other nuns were so concerned by her increasingly disturbing claims that they reported her actions to the papal council in Rome and were ordered to confine Sister Benedetta to her room.
A young novice nun, Sister Bartolomea Crivelli, was assigned to watch over her.
However, the pair embarked on a lesbian affair which ended when Bartolomea told another nun about their illicit romance.
Later, at a papal inquiry, Bartolomea gave graphic testimony about how Benedetta engaged in sex acts with her while possessed by the spirit of a ‘male demon’ called Splenditello.
Papal authorities determined Benedetta’s revelations were the work of the Devil, not God; ‘a diabolical obsession’.
They stripped her of her rank and she was in the convent’s ‘prison’ for the remaining 35 years of her life. She died in 1661.