Sex and religion: “Benedetta”, the film that will shake the Croisette

PREVIEW – In theaters on July 9, the day it was presented in competition at the 74th Cannes Film Festival, Paul Verhoeven’s “Benedetta” portrays an unethical nun in ultra-conservative 17th century Italy. What to cause controversy also in 2021?

Don’t count on Paul Verhoeven to settle down. At 82, the Dutch filmmaker has lost none of his taste for provocation as evidenced by Benedetta, his new film in the running for the Palme d’Or at the 74th Cannes Film Festival. In theaters all over France on the same day, this historical drama conveys all the obsessions, or almost, of one of the freest European authors of his generation who, after having success in theaters and at the César de It with Isabelle Huppert, has teamed up again with producer Saïd Ben Saïd for one of the most ambitious and personal projects of his career.

We are in the 17th century and little Benedetta Carlini, eldest daughter of a notable from Tuscany, joins the convent of Pescia, led with an iron fist by Sister Felicita (Charlotte Rampling). Eighteen years later, as the plague ravaged the region, Benedetta (Virginie Efira) has become the most pious of all, assailed by somewhat laughable visions of Christ the protector. Until the day when she crosses the road of Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia), the daughter of a violent peasant whom she decides to take under her wing. And which arouses in her hitherto unsuspected impulses …

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An atheist filmmaker who takes it on

Throughout his life, Paul Verhoeven maintained a complex relationship with religion, a mixture of fascination and repulsion that drove him for a long time to consider a film on the life of Christ, on the strength of his theological studies. He got a book out of it, Jesus of nazareth, published in 2015, where he did not hesitate to compare his subject to Che Guevara, using his charisma to convince his followers of the existence of God and threaten the forces that rule Jerusalem.

Benedetta extends this explosive vision of Catholicism through a heroine who not only brings to light the power struggles within the convent, but also questions the taboo of sexuality among religious. It is therefore the mystical thriller of an atheist filmmaker who assumes it and is clearly not afraid to show it. Sensitive souls are warned. Will they be heard during the presentation of the film on the Croisette?

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Yes Benedetta will make people talk, it is also by the grace of Virginie Efira. From the disturbing Sibyl by Justin Triet, we knew the Belgian actress was very comfortable with her body in the cinema. The multiple scenes of sex with his partner, Daphne Patakia, will undoubtedly be very commented, and rightly so. But it is the multiple degrees of reading that his game gives the character that could well seduce the jury of the Cannes Film Festival.

In a permanent balance between drama and excess, tragedy and the second degree, the actress leads the viewer so well that it is difficult to separate the true from the false. Right from wrong, indeed. An ambiguity which is reminiscent of, the chasuble in addition, the ice pick in less, the bisexual novelist Catherine Tramell played by Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. We had a worse reference.

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