"Benedetta" is a biographical historical film released in 2021, also known as "Blessed Virgin", directed by Paul Verhoeven, starring actors Virginie Efira, Daphne Patakia, and Charlotte Rampling. A holy mark of Jesus appears on a woman named Benedetta. While she faces the public skepticism, a woman accompanies her and soothes Benedetta's confused mind, and develops an affair that transcends gender.
Religious exploration behind the naked desire
Although known for commercial films such as "RoboCop", "Starship Troopers" and "Hollow Man", many of director Paul van Verhoeven's works over the years, whether "Basic Instinct", "Zwartboek" or "Her", have boldly touched or challenged controversial topics. This time "Benedetta", which is selected for the main competition at the Cannes International Film Festival, is no exception, choosing to take a lesbian in a convent as a subject with a strong sense of impact. That is also another layer of interpretation and inquiry of religion.
The background of the history of "Benedetta"
The protagonist of "Benedetta", is a 17th-century Italian nun. Her mother died of dystocia when she was born. After praying to God for the safety of her mother and daughter, Benedetta's father decided to dedicate his daughter to God to thank him for saving his wife and daughter, whose lives were in danger.
As a girl destined to become a nun from birth, Benedetta was surrounded by unexplained miracles from an early age from letting a soldier who bullied one's mother get drenched in bird droppings on the way to the convent, to hoping for the love of Benedetta when she arrived at the convent, the statue gently fell on her as if to hug her. The fact that her voice seemed to be heard by God as long as she prayed with devotion. All of these are quite complete for the rest of the story of Benedetta.
The Ambiguous Affair of Benedetta
Eighteen years later, Benedetta was a mature woman living a regular and ordinary life in a convent. One day, a woman named Bartolomea was chased by her evil father and fled to a convent to seek refuge. But this seemingly natural decision also changed Benedetta's life as a nun when she entered the convent.
Unlike the relatively conservative atmosphere of the convent, "Benedetta" has many descriptions of women's bodies and desires. As the nuns live together day and night, Benedetta develops a subtle affair and forbidden physical relationship with Bartolomea, an outsider who is different from the other nuns, under years of repression. However, as the two get closer, Benedetta's body and spirit begin to appear different.
The Forbidden Love of "Benedetta"
Not only did they often see visions of Jesus as if they were real, but Benedetta also suffered from an unknown disease that caused her intense pain after she interacted with God in her sleep. But it was not until the stigmata of Christ's Passion appeared on Benedetta's left and right palms, feet, and head that these extraordinary phenomena came to the attention of the parish priest and the townspeople.
As a result of what was seen as a blessing and a revelation from God, Benedetta was "promoted" from a nun to the head of the convent. This led to discontent among the former abbess's daughter and others, who were suspicious of her claims of miraculous visions and wound stigmata, brought in the clergy of the Florentine order to investigate the matter in depth. However, before the matter was settled, the forbidden relationship between Benedetta and Bartolomea came to light, which not only violated the rules of the nuns but also made homosexuality a mortal sin at the time.
Benedetta is not what we think it is.
Perhaps on the surface, "Benedetta" seems to look like "Portrait de la Jeune fille en feu," "Ammonite" and "The World to Come," which depicts the unattainable love in a repressive era, but there is more to this film than that. In the medieval setting of the film, rather than the two nuns' desire for sexual and physical exploration, director Paul Verhoeven focuses the entire film on the exploration of religious faith through the actions of Benedetta in the face of such a situation.
During the 17th century Renaissance in Italy, the humanist ideology, which was opposed to the religious and divine power of the past, was enlightened. People began to pay attention to human rights and individual freedom and gradually released their emotions and wisdom from the shackles of traditional theology. The protagonist Benedetta is a nun with unwavering faith, but at the same time, she has a strong desire for the same sex and her own body, which is a contradictory existence between the two in this era.
The True and False Lies of Benedetta
Based on a true story, "Benedetta" is not only a character-based biographical film but also, through the fascinating camera language and suspenseful narrative tone of director Paul Verhoeven, the identification and estimation of the true identity of Benedetta by everyone in the film, shows that religious beliefs. It seems non-existent but can manipulate people's hearts and have an indelible impact on the development and changes of the whole world. The powerful force that brings indelible influence on the development of the whole world.
"Benedetta" is undoubtedly a film about people, even if, as the plot progresses. The audience can see that the Black Death curse cast by Benedetta was seen by her beforehand. The stigmata were suspected to be forged by her. However, in the end, no one would be sure whether the sight she saw and the words she said were true or not. Just like the line between heaven and hell, the same unexplained supernatural phenomena, when you decide to burn the devil to death. Do not you suspect that she might be the incarnation of God?
Benedetta's exploration of religious beliefs
Personally, the value of religious beliefs is only to give us spiritual support. Even though Benedetta, does not hide her desires and tries to get a high position through people's superstition. She still believes in God's strength from the bottom of her heart with her devout and steadfast faith. Such a woman, compared with the former abbess mother and daughter and the Papal Nuncio, who had doubts about people, who can be called a true believer?
Even at the age of 83, director Paul Verhoeven is still like Benedetta, a nun who has liberated her body and soul and is perversely seeking freedom in her faith, challenging the traditional ideas and controversial and sensitive subjects that many people consider to be the norm.
The theme of "Benedetta"
The film is centered on the naked desire and power struggle in the convent and presents the absurd situation that parents had to sponsor a sum of money to become a nun, which is undoubtedly a strong offense, blasphemy, and rebellion against religious faith. As we can see in the film, there is no 100% certainty in any situation.
Believe it or not, is both central to the story of "Benedetta" and decides how we perceive religious belief. As a medium or vehicle of thought, what it becomes ultimately depends on how people use it and how they interpret it. Perhaps you may not believe in anything, but when you encounter a crisis that you can't solve at once, will you also choose to ask God for divination? Or silently hope in your heart that someone can come to your rescue in the nick of time?
The meaning of the ending of Benedetta
Just as in the face of the end of days, many people will turn to faith for refuge, but apart from giving people peace of mind. It might also allow some heretics to take advantage of the situation and gain attention by manipulating fear and spreading false information. Through this story, "Benedetta" tells the audience that religious beliefs do not have an absolute appearance or so-called good or bad, but only when people give absolute explanations and unconditional blind obedience.
Therefore, going back to the ending of "Benedetta", although Benedetta, as an unacceptable lesbian in those days, was considered a liar by the papal nuncio in Florence, at that time the Black Death swept through the whole of Italy and only this town was spared because of the closure of the city. Even if Benedetta finally returned to the convent, she was not executed instead she was "protected" by the people and lived peacefully until the age of 79. The result of this cold treatment, is not the final decision of the people's hearts because of the fear of becoming unstable?
Conclusion of "Benedetta" Review
Although I don't know what you expect from this movie, whether it is the forbidden love of nuns in a conservative era or the conflict of religious beliefs and values, "Benedetta" definitely exceeds my original image of this story. With the text of a true historical story, director Paul Verhoeven succeeds in using the seemingly simple. But there is never a standard answer to the question of people's interpretation of faith to elevate "Benedetta" to another level. "Benedetta" has an overall high degree of completion both artistic and meaningful content.