“We’re all entitled to a sin. What’s yours?”Soeur Jacopa
Paul Verhoeven is frequently described as a provocateur, which has led unfairly to mainstream discourse around his film about the life of 17th century Italian nun Benedetta Carlini being reduced to its more provocative elements. Central to Benedetta’s story is her illicit relationship with another sister at the abbey and, although there is frequent nudity, there is surprisingly little sex since the film’s focus is the psychological. Bartolomea is a temptation for Benedetta particularly because she finds herself isolated within the abbey by the visions she experiences which are mistrusted by others. When Benedetta displays the stigmata, she is sanguine about the source, stating that even if they had been self-inflicted, her actions may have been influenced by God. The more transgressive side of Benedetta is its seething distaste for the Church’s hypocrisy (particularly in the counter-reformation though by no means confined to that era) with leaders making professions of faith out of self-interest and condemning others for the same reason. Benedetta has an unfortunate tendency to veer toward melodrama, particualrly in Daphne Patakia’s performance — perhaps appropriately for Bartolomea’s youthful naïvety. Charlotte Rampling’s chilly and determined abbess is a fine counterpoint to Virginie Efira’s conflicted and nuanced performance as Benedetta, while Lambert Wilson provides a gleefully straightforward villain to root against. Benedetta is an enjoyable drama, strongly psychological and mildly erotic, with little sympathy for the machinations of organised religion.