Benedetta is supposedly based on a true story about a 17th century nun in an Italian convent who has a lesbian love affair. This is directed by Paul Verhoeven who made a name for himself directing the erotic thriller Basic Instinct as well as the equally sensational Showgirls. I must say that I admire Paul Verhoeven for not showing any signs of slowing down or losing appetite in making a highly sexual and scandalous movie at a ripe old age of 83!
It is interesting that the film starts of with the words “based on a true story” because that sets the expectation of the viewer immediately for something profound to unfold. The beginning was indeed interesting as we are introduced to a young Benedetta who claims to have vision of the Virgin Mary. She is being sent to join a convent by her parents at a very young age. The convent is run by a rather business minded and unbending abbess played by Charlotte Rampling. These initial scenes were engaging in that they provided a rather stark and negative reflection of the Catholic convent while being filmed in an interesting setting. But unfortunately, the story quickly moved some 17 years forward with a matured Benedetta (Virginie Efira) playing her role as a diligent nun who seems to still have visions of not only Mary but of Jesus! Her development years in the convert are never shown and we jump straight to how she meets Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) who eventually becomes her lesbian lover.
Paul Verhoeven seem to be in a hurry to get straight to the lesbian relationship and finds the slightest excuse to have his leading actresses be constantly in a state of undress. Both Benedetta and Bartolomea come across as very superficial characters as we are never given much of any back ground of substance to build up these characters as actual human beings. Instead they are being tossed together almost instantly from the moment they meet, engaging initially with some heavy hanky panky stuff and later progressing to lesbian sex. At times I felt like I was watching a soft porn rather than a historical biographical drama as the way these characters are being portrayed often bordered on exploitative.
Despite the story being told almost entirely within the confines of the convent, we have very little idea on the routines or the regimen of how things get run. Even the interiors of the convent are confined to just a few areas like the bed chambers, the abbess’s office and the chapel. We get very little sense of what life in the convent is like as a result.
Nevertheless the story is compelling enough to keep one glued for the duration of its 2 hours and 10 minutes running time and I can only attribute this to it being a guilty pleasure. Benedetta may come across from its promotional material as serious arthouse cinema but in reality it works more at the level of cheesy and commercial entertainment.