Benedetta: Absurd, bodice-ripping nunsploitation flick

Review: Paul Verhoeven has made an explicit, curiously unsexy version of Carry On, Sister

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Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Virginie Efira, Lambert Wilson, Daphne Patakia, Olivier Rabourdin, Clotilde Courau, Charlotte Rampling, Hervé Pierre
Running Time: 2 hrs 12 mins

Holy splinters! Is that a Virgin Mary shaped dildo tucked away in a vibrator-sized cutaway in a Bible?

If you thought Carice van Houten had a tough time in Black Book – what with bleaching her pubic hair for Nazis and wallowing in excrement – well, hold on to your hat for Paul Verhoeven’s absurd, bodice-ripping 17th century nunsploitation flick. The ceremonial restraint that defines contemporary mainstream lesbian romances like Carol and Disobedience is here abandoned with, well, abandon.

The Robocop and Hollow Man director instead opts for pooing lesbians on a communal latrine, pouncing nudity, bondage, flagellation and archaic sex toys. For much of the run time, it’s an explicit, curiously unsexy, dully blasphemous version of Carry On, Sister, a spec script that somehow never made its way to Barbara Windsor.

Except when it isn’t.

The bunga bunga and scatology is frequently interrupted by pronouncements about God’s will. No, really. This is a biopic of Benedetta Carlini, a mystical Italian nun who may or may not have had stigmata in 17th century Tuscany and who almost certainly didn’t look like Virginie Efira.

Somehow this was adapted from a book, namely Judith Brown’s 1986 biography Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. One suspects Brown’s accounts of Carlini’s religious erotic visions are possibly less ridiculous than they are in Verhoeven’s film. Gaze helplessly as Benedetta bounces toplessly toward Jesus during crucifixion for a school disco style snog.

Inevitably, there’s a bust-up with senior church figures and Benedetta’s young lover Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) is consequently raped and tortured with “the pear”, a sickening vaginal device utilised by a wicked papal rep (Lambert Wilson).

It is difficult to convey this chasmic change in tone in which Benedetta leaps from kitsch to atrocity. It’s even more difficult to fathom the final scenes in which anachronistically bright, lusty peasants – earlier glimpsed enjoying flatulence-lighting minstrels – riot. To add to the viewer’s distress, the picture is as deafeningly loud as it is tiresomely provocative.