Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Starring Virginie Efira, Charlotte Rampling and Daphne Patakia
Don’t expect Robo Cop (1987) or Showgirls (1995) when you dial up Paul Verhoeven’s most recent flick on Hulu. In fact, forget that he directed Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992) and Starship Troopers (1997). The director’s latest, Benedetta, is the ultimate amalgamation of the aforementioned films. As in, it’s bat-shit crazy, violent, sarcastic and full of sexuality. This film does one thing that other Verhoeven films can’t, though: it allows you to deeply care about two points of view, each embodied with beauty and skill by Virginie Efira and Daphne Patakia as Benedetta and Bartolomea.
Benedetta’s a nun. And not a “down-on-her-luck lady of the 17th century who turns to a nunnery for three square meals and a bed” type of nun. Nope. Benedetta’s rich. She could’ve done anything. But her call to the cloth carried a much more important reason: she was destined to be the bride of Jesus Christ.
Italy, at the time, was suffering from a plague, a plot point that emerges after we are introduced to another nun who is very down-on-her-luck, Bartolomea. She and Benedetta form… um…a “bond,: and the rest of the film focuses on this bond and the conflict it creates. The images of violence and sex may be shocking, but each depiction serves the greater purpose of a beautiful story.
Charlotte Rampling (Hannah, 45 Years) once again steals the show as Soeur Felicita, l’abbesse and leader of the convent. Her determination and guile are a great match for the headstrong and faith-driven Benedetta. Soeur’s story arc is the most interesting, which is no small feat given the other main characters and their…um… bond.
Visually, Bendetta is appealing even though it lacked the huge budget it needed to bolster the sets and hire more extras to make the historical drama more believable. The symbolism is done well too, at times teetering on ridiculous and heartbreaking—hallmarks of Verhoven’s directorial style.
If you are a fan of Verhoeven and his films, then Benedetta is a must see. If you can’t quote Total Recall at a moment’s notice like I can, you should still watch this beautiful love story.
If films that tested the boundaries of American cinema and sex like Basic Instinct and Showgirls get a “so bad it’s good” B-, and Sci-Fi flagpoles like Robo Cop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are B+s, then Benadetta, a new side of Paul Verhoeven, is an A-.