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BENEDETTA gets 6.5/10 Nuns in trouble


Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Starring Virginie Efira, Daphne Patakia, Charlotte Rampling

6.5/10

Although sounding like the story from a nunsploitation erotic film, Benedetta is actually based on the true story of its titular character, who was banished from her convent for engaging in homosexuality and blasphemy. It certainly takes a director like Paul Verhoeven to tackle both raunchy and socially-minded material, even though he never finds quite the right tone here to settle on.

Taking place in 1600s Italy, a battered woman, Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia), finds a way to leave her domestic problems by joining a convent. She is prepared into this nun lifestyle by one of the dedicated Sisters, Benedetta (Virginie Efira), but she doesn’t consider this new intruder to be that religious. In fact, Bartolomea seems to be luring her towards a lifestyle of lust and indecency.

At times, the film gets in its own slight ways a little ridiculous, to the point where it actually feels like the erotic thriller-dramas Verhoeven was making in the ‘90s (Basic Instinct, Showgirls). But these moments, in their own ridiculous way, actually give the film a bit of a lift, elevating it out of its solemn murkiness. It’s likely this could have benefited from being more ridiculous, embracing its campiness more and injected more silliness into this tale of nuns gone wild.

Despite some mundanity making this less enjoyable than it should be, there’s still enough flourishes to make certain scenes and images stay with you, particularly when the townspeople seem to be treated with a “message from God.” It is at this point of the film where the lesbian nun aspect has run out of tension, but is somewhat replaced by the town’s pressures to keep its doors open to the district Father, despite warnings of spreading the plague – as you can tell from recent real life, this doesn’t go too well.

Like with quite a few recent films dealing with theism, the film doesn’t exactly retain an authentic sense of that and feels more atheistic, even when it’s trying to be more faith-based. The film ultimately comes to the conclusion that faith-based occurrences can simply be mere deceptions, which works for the latter part of the film, but it never weens us comfortably into the convent. Benedetta is a tad schlocky, sometimes benefiting from it, but overall crafts a mostly compelling tale of nuns behind closed convent doors, despite its tonal inconsistencies.

DAVID MORGAN-BROWN

Benedetta plays at UWA’s Somerville Auditorium from Monday, January 3 to Sunday, January 9. For more information and to buy tickets head to perthfestival.com.au

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