“Benedetta” Review: A film that boldly touches controversial and sensitive topics

Movie Review

“Benedetta” is a biographical history film released in 2021. It is directed by Paul Verhoeven and starred by actors Virginie Efira, Daphné Patakia, and Charlotte Rampling.

The plot tells that in 17th century Italy, a nun named Benedetta appeared with the stigmata of Jesus on her body and claimed to have seen a miracle.

"Benedetta" Review: A film that boldly touches controversial and sensitive topics

But almost all clergy regarded it as a lie.

In the face of everyone’s doubts, a woman was by her side at this time, soothing Benedetta’s chaotic heart, and developing an ambiguous relationship with her that transcended gender.

The Religious Discussion Behind the Naked Desire

"Benedetta" Review: A film that boldly touches controversial and sensitive topics

Although he is well-known for commercial films such as “RoboCop”, “Starship Troopers”, and “Hollow Man”, many other works of director Paul Verhoeven over the years, such as “Basic Instinct” or “Elle”, have boldly touched or challenged controversial topic.

“Benedetta”, who was selected for the main competition at the Cannes International Film Festival, is no exception.

“Benedetta” chooses to use the strong conflicting existence of lesbians in the monastery as the subject, and the film also makes another level of interpretation and discussion of religious beliefs.

Related Post: “She” director’s new work “Benedetta” once again exposed trailer.

The historical background of “Benedetta”

The protagonist of the “Benedetta” story, Benedetta, is a 17th century Italian nun.

Due to her mother’s dystocia when she was born, Benedetta’s father prayed to God for the peace of her mother and daughter.

Later, in order to thank God for saving his dying wife and daughter, Benedetta’s father decided to dedicate his daughter to God.

Then he sent her to a monastery in a nearby town when Benedetta was 9 years old.

"Benedetta" Review: A film that boldly touches controversial and sensitive topics

As a girl who was destined to be a nun since she was born, Benedetta has been showing unexplainable miracles since she was a child.

First, she let a soldier who bullied her mother got drenched in bird droppings on the way to the monastery.

Then she arrived at the monastery hoping to receive the love of the Virgin, and then the statue fell gently on her as if to give her a hug.

As long as Benedetta prays with devout faith, her voice seems to be heard by God.

These are quite complete for the follow-up story of “Benedetta”.

The Ambiguous Feelings of “Benedetta”

18 years later, Benedetta is already a mature woman, living a regular and ordinary life in the monastery.

One day a woman named Bartolomea was chased by her evil father and fled into the monastery to seek refuge.

Benedetta helped her to become a trainee nun in the monastery through the kindness of a woman.

But I didn’t expect this seemingly natural decision, but after Bartolomea entered the monastery, Benedetta’s original nun’s life changed.

"Benedetta" Review: A film that boldly touches controversial and sensitive topics

Unlike the relatively conservative atmosphere thinking in the monastery, “Benedetta” has many descriptions of female bodies and desires.

Due to the nun’s life style of getting along day and night, Benedetta has gradually developed a subtle ambiguous relationship and a taboo physical relationship with Bartolomea, an outsider who is different from other nuns, under years of depression.

However, as the two people got closer, Benedetta’s body and spirit began to appear abnormal.

Taboo Love in “Benedetta”

Not only does Benedetta often see the illusion of Jesus appearing in front of her eyes as real, but she also engages in dialogue and interaction with God in her sleep.

Later, Benedetta also suffered from an unknown disease that made her feel violent.

Although at first the abbot said that these unbearable sufferings are the love and grace given by God.

But it wasn’t until Benedetta’s left and right palms, feet, and head showed the stigmata of Christ’s crucifixion.

These extraordinary phenomena also attracted the attention of the priests and townsfolk of the parish.

"Benedetta" Review: A film that boldly touches controversial and sensitive topics

As this was regarded as a blessing and revelation from God, Benedetta was “upgraded” from a nun to the head of the monastery.

This also caused dissatisfaction with the daughter of the former abbot and others. They were suspicious of the miraculous vision and wound stigma she claimed, and then they called the priests of the Holy See in Florence to conduct an in-depth investigation.

However, the matter has not been finalized, the taboo relationship between Benedetta and Bartolomea is first exposed.

This not only violated the rules of nuns, but homosexuality was also a serious sin that had to be executed at the time.

“Benedetta” is different from our imagination

It may seem that “Benedetta” is a work like “Portrait de la jeune fille en feu”, “Ammonite”, and “The World to Come” that describes love that is difficult to achieve in an era of depression.

But this movie is more interesting.

In the context of the entire medieval story, compared to the two nuns’ desire to explore sex and body, the director Paul Verhoeven instead used the protagonist Benedetta’s behavior in the face of this situation to focus the entire film on “Our Lady” Discussion of religious beliefs.

"Benedetta" Review: A film that boldly touches controversial and sensitive topics

In the 17th century, during the Renaissance in Italy, the humanistic ideas opposed to the religious theocracy of the past gained enlightenment.

People began to pay attention to human rights and personal freedom, and gradually separated their emotions and wisdom from the shackles of traditional theology.

And Benedetta, as a nun who not only has a firm belief, but also has a strong desire for the same sex and her own body, is just a contradiction between the two in this era.

The true and false lie of “Benedetta”

Based on a true story, “Benedetta” is more than just a biographical film featuring characters.

Under the fascinating lens language and suspenseful narrative tone of director Paul Verhoeven, everyone in the film also recognizes and estimates the true identity of the protagonist Benedetta.

Although the religious beliefs displayed by “Benedetta” seem to be non-existent, they are also powerful forces that can manipulate people’s hearts and have an indelible impact on the development and change of the entire world.

"Benedetta" Review: A film that boldly touches controversial and sensitive topics

“Benedetta” is undoubtedly a movie about people.

Even as the plot progresses, the audience can see that the Black Death curse imposed by Benedetta is what she has seen before, and the stigmata is suspected to be forged by herself.

But in the end, no one can be sure whether the scene she saw and what she said was true.

Just like the line separating heaven and hell, unexplainable supernatural phenomena also occur.

When you decided to burn the devil to death, didn’t you doubt that she might be the incarnation of God?

“Benedetta”‘s Discussion on Religious Belief

As far as I am concerned, the meaning and value of religious beliefs is just to give us spiritual sustenance.

Even though Benedetta did not conceal her desire and tried to gain a high position through people’s superstition, she still believed from the bottom of her heart that God gave her strength with a pious and steadfast faith.

And in this way, compared with the former abbots, mothers and daughters and ambassadors of the Holy See in the film, who have been suspicious, who can be called a true believer?

"Benedetta" Review: A film that boldly touches controversial and sensitive topics

Even at the age of 83, the director Paul Verhoeven is still like Benedetta, a nun who has liberated her body and mind and seeks freedom from her beliefs. He boldly challenged a sensitive subject that many people regard as controversial with “Benedetta”.

Paul Verhoeven elevates the film to a completely different level of concepts and insights, triggering audiences to explore and reflect on related issues.

The theme of the “Benedetta” plot

The whole film of “Benedetta” centers on the naked desire and power struggle in the monastery, and presents the absurd situation of having to sponsor a sum of money to become a nun’s parents.

This is undoubtedly a strong offense, blasphemy, and resistance to religious beliefs.

But even so, Paul Verhoeven, in addition to his one-sided criticism, also demonstrated and praised God’s protection and suffering punishment through those miracles that happen to happen by accident or in the future.

As we have seen in the film, there is no one hundred percent conclusion in any situation.

"Benedetta" Review: A film that boldly touches controversial and sensitive topics

“Believe it or not” is not only the core of the story of the whole film of “Benedetta”, it is also the key to determining how we view religious beliefs.

As a medium or carrier of thought, what it will eventually become depends on how people use and interpret it.

Maybe you usually don’t believe in anything, but when you encounter a crisis that you can’t solve for a while, do you also choose to ask God for divination?

Or in my heart silently hope that someone can help in a critical juncture?

The meaning of the ending of “Benedetta”

Just like facing the end of the day, many people will turn to seek the asylum of faith.

But in addition to making people feel at ease, is this also possible for some heretics?

They gain attention by manipulating fear and spreading false information, and accumulate into a huge force?

“Benedetta” used this story to tell the audience that religious beliefs do not have an absolute appearance and the so-called good or bad.

Problems only arise when people give absolute explanations and unconditional blind obedience.

"Benedetta" Review: A film that boldly touches controversial and sensitive topics

Back to the ending of the “Benedetta” movie, although Benedetta was an unacceptable lesbian in that era and was considered a liar by the Pope’s ambassador in Florence.

But at the time the Black Death swept across Italy, and only this small town survived the lockdown.

Even if Benedetta finally returned to the monastery, she was not put to death. Instead, she was “protected” by the crowd and lived peacefully until she was 79 years old.

The result of this cold treatment is not the final decision made by people’s hearts becoming erratic because of fear?

“Benedetta” film review conclusion

Although I don’t know what people expect from this movie, whether it is the taboo love of nuns in the conservative era, or the conflict and value exploration of religious beliefs, “Benedetta” is definitely beyond my original imagination for this story.

"Benedetta" Review: A film that boldly touches controversial and sensitive topics

Under the text of real historical stories, director Paul Verhoeven successfully used people’s interpretation of beliefs, a seemingly simple question, but there will never be a standard answer to raise “Benedetta” to another level.

The overall completion of “Benedetta” is quite high, it has both artistic and content meaning.

“Benedetta” can be selected for the main competition of the 2021 Cannes International Film Festival is not without reason.

Related Post: Paul Verhoeven’s new film “Benedetta” released Exclusive Trailer.

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