Virginie Efira plays a mystic and lesbian in Benedetta
Benedetta, a sultry historical drama by Paul Verhoeven starring our compatriot Virginie Efira in the title role, will be one of the thrills of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, where it will be presented in competition on 9 July at the same time as it is released in cinemas.
The film tells the story of Benedetta Carlini, a Catholic nun born circa 1590 in Pescia, Tuscany, during the Counter-Reformation with the plague raging all around. She was just a nine-yea-old girl when she entered the Convent of the Mother of God in Pescia as a novice. She soon started seeing visions, receiving messages from the Lord himself, she claimed. At first, no one believed her, but the rest of the convent took her seriously when she began to experience physical symptoms and develop a stigma. She was gradually given more and more power within the community. But another sister, Bartolomea (Daphné Patakia), was assigned to watch over her because of her violent and increasingly strange visions. Benedetta became abbess of the convent at the age of 30. However, the high religious authorities began to worry about this unusual character and sent investigators to the convent to clarify the matter. They discovered that her visions were only the product of her imagination but, more seriously, that the nun was having a homosexual relationship with Bartolomea, who confessed everything. The abbess was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment.
The film is an adaptation of the book by Judith C. Brown, "Immodest Acts: The Life of A Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy". In an interview about his career as a whole, Paul Verhoeven says, "I am attracted to violence and ambiguity...," there is no doubt that with "Benedetta" he was able to exploit his favourite themes. As for the Belgian actress, she speaks of "a striking experience" for her and a film that deals with "an ultimate taboo in the Church. The trial of a woman due to her homosexuality."