Paul Verhoeven always creates lived-in worlds and his retelling of Saint Benedetta’s life in the Catholic church is PURE Verhoeven. Impending darkness presiding over a sexual awakeneing, provoking the audience with every subsequent scene. It’s a beautiful rendering of sexual freedom through the guise of religious restriction. It’s violent and bloody. Apocryphal and full of juicy drama. Plus, filled with damning religious imagery and powerful metaphors. What we’re left with is one of Verhoeven’s best films.
The wickedness of Benedetta is embedded into the style and performances. Virginie Efira (Benedetta) delivers a remarkable performance, balancing the line between mad and prodigious. However, the standout to me was Charlotte Rampling as the Reverend mother and Benedetta’s skeptic superior. The central dynamic between these two and Benedetta’s muse, Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia), create a hyper surreal narrative. Verhoeven takes it a step further with the visions of Benedetta and her relationship with God. It’s written in a purgatory between pure and chaste and impending evil.
The film continually loses its grip on reality and runs head first into the hypocrisy of religion and human nature. Of all Verhoeven’s filmography, Benedetta has the most to say and screams it the loudest. Oppressively provocative cinema that I simply can’t get enough of. It’s not a perfect film from a technical standpoint, but has an abrasive tone that’s less common. Great performances, meaningful direction, and one of the most interesting films of 2021.