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Review | Paul Verhoeven's controversial 'Benedetta' plays at Perth Festival

Benedetta

Benedetta | Dir: Paul Verhoeven | ★ ★ ★  

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Based on the book Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by American author and historian Judith Brown, I really wanted to like this erotic thriller from the Dutch director of Basic Instinct (1992), Showgirls (1995) and Elle (2016) starring Isabelle Huppert.

This historical drama pits a myriad of contrasting elements against each other to resonate with the present. Set in the seventeenth century, in a convent in a small Northern Italian town, there is a huge contrast between the rich and the poor. There is also a huge contrast between the relative calm inside the monastery and the rabble outside where witches are burnt at the stake and people in surrounding towns are dying of the plague.

Benedetta (Virginie Efira) is a devoted nun who has been in the monastery from a young age, although she has vivid erotic dreams about her Lord and claims that he speaks to her. The Abbess (Charlotte Rampling) has doubts about Benedetta’s claimed miracles and she appeals to the papal representative, the vile Nuncio (Lambert Wilson) who comes to the convent to investigate.

When the convent takes on their latest novice, Bartolemea (Daphne Patakia) who has run into the convent from an abusive father, Benedetta is drawn to her. Pretty soon, director Verhoeven introduces a series of what he must have thought of as hot lesbian sex scenes between his two non-lesbian actresses. Bartolemea makes a dildo from a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary and Benedetta shakes the convent walls with her orgasmic screams.

All this manages to do is offend all lesbians as well as any devout Catholics. If only the director had left the drama to the dynamics between the main characters and the brutalities of the times. There is more than enough entertainment there.

Benedetta, whose release has been delayed because of the current pandemic, screens at UWA’s Somerville Monday 2 January – Sunday 9 January.

Find out more about the season at perthfestival.com.au

Lezly Herbert


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