CINEMA – This is one of the most anticipated films on the Croisette. This Friday July 9, parallel to its release on screens in France, is presented at the Cannes Film Festival the new feature film by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, Benedetta, starring Virginie Efira.
Her story, adapted from the historical account reconstructed by researcher Judith C. Brown in Sister Benedetta, between saint and lesbian, it is that of an Italian nun who, in the course of the 17th century, joined the convent of Pescia in Tuscany, convinced that she was in contact with Jesus Christ. The more time passes, the more certain she is of her visions, thereby attracting the jealousy of some of the sisters, but also the very special affection of one of them, Bartolomea.
Benedetta does not resist his charm or his advances for long. At his side, the nun surrenders to the pleasures of sex, until the day their relationship breaks out in full view of all, giving rise to a trial and the conviction of the heroine for “lesbianism”.
Check out the trailer for Benedetta:
There is nothing funny about the film. However, we find ourselves laughing. The tone is cynical. The line, sometimes exaggerated. “I wouldn’t say we’re coming to see a big comedy, but there were some very funny things to play,” Virginie Efira tells us. The actress remembers a scene, during which Felicita’s daughter, envious of Benedetta’s accession to power, asks her if Jesus has given her any indications on the behavior she should adopt. “No, he didn’t say anything to me,” she answers dryly, with a wave of her hand.
An atypical sex toy
Benedetta does not show any gentleness, she is not characterized by the expected Christian values. On the contrary, she does not like contestation. An authority nuanced by the laughable nature of certain scenes, such as “when I am with my little sandals running after Jesus so that he is waiting for me”, comments Virginie Efira.
The actress is full of praise for Paul Verhoeven, and his humor. “There is never taken seriously in his cinema, blows the actress. What I love is that he exaggerates, a bit like an impressionist. There can be a ‘farce’ side, especially with regard to religious imagery, but he always works with incredible seriousness. Like the look that Jamel Debbouze had when he started out, he never does a thoughtful job. ”
The wooden sextoy that Bartolomea carves from a statuette of the Virgin Mary can attest to this. Benedetta’s reaction to finding it, too. “Oh, it’s a little rough in this place,” she points out to him. “It’s so improbable and at the same time very concrete,” notes Virginie Efira. She likes the cynicism of the filmmaker, his way of showing the lies of social play and the hypocrisy of people “who think they are close to God”.
The humor here is surprising. “It’s also a way of telling things with a form of distance,” continues the interpreter. There are so many absurd things going on in the world that we could laugh at it. When you put them in front, it loses its seriousness. Laughter is not just the relaxation of the brain. ”
A non-consensual film
This in no way spares the violence of the images, such as those of mutilated women’s bodies or the suicide of one of the sisters. ”The body in all its forms interests Paul Verhoeven. It is also the body that shits, the body that oozes, the body that has buboes or growths. In short, everything ”, comments Virginie Efira, according to whom the director’s work on this film is similar to that of the Flemish painters. As in Bruegel’s paintings, the scenes from Benedetta overflowing with people. They are beautiful, but “don’t forget this guy peeing in a corner”, comments the actress.
“Violence,” she adds, “you don’t have to look to the right or to the left to see that it’s there. It is understood in man. Everything that would be a question of locking up, of acting as if it did not have to be, as if we were not animals, Paul Verhoeven will put it forward. The context of this film has a very special resonance. Even if we find that our present time is more and more violent, we should perhaps take a look at the Middle Ages [pour relativiser]. It is very great violence. It’s not the coronavirus. ”
Like its heroine, the feature film does not respond to a single logic. “We can’t say that the film is totally consensual. We can not say either that the film will offend the sensitivity of absolutely nobody, admits Virginie Efira. It’s better this way. I prefer that to the algorithms that make us all swallow the same thing. In the construction of oneself, it is interesting. As a teenager, that’s what made me feel more alive. ” Will the Cannes public react in the same way? The die is cast.
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