God bless Benedetta, a horny lesbian nun movie

What better way to usher in the return of cinema than two hours of blasphemic beauty from Paul Verhoeven?

by Douglas Greenwood
09 July 2021, 7:49pm

A woman’s hand, marked with the scar of a crucifixion, cups the breast of another in the candle-lit bedroom of a nun’s convent. This is an image that best captures the spirit of Paul Verhoeven’s deranged, horny, traumatising movie Benedetta: a two-hour trip through the spiritual enlightenment of a nun touched by Jesus whose abstinence soon goes out the window upon the arrival of a young and forward new wannabe, who rolls off the streets from a troubled home, ready to obey the Lord’s Prayer — so long as she can get her rocks off in the process. 

So far, so Paul Verhoeven. For those not familiar with the Dutch auteur’s work, he’s spent over 50 years populating film festivals with majorly divisive, almost always controversial movies. From his silly sci-fi output with a sociological twist, like Starship Troopers and RoboCop, through to his more shocking modern work, like 2016’s celebrated but controversial rape revenge drama Elle, he has been continually framed as a stickler for dark humour and, often, proud pastiche. He has a desire to make your jaw drop in disbelief. With Benedetta, unsurprisingly, he succeeds once again.

In the movie that’s sure to cause controversy off the back of its premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the usually stoic and plain world of a nun’s convent is upended, transforming into a hotbed of sin, sex and searing violence. 

Benedetta, played by Belgian actor Virginie Efira, is the film’s titular protagonist. We know from the beginning that she has been blessed by Christ, or at least does a great job of pretending to have been. As a young girl, she’s taken to a convent in the Italian town of Pescia by her father to fulfil these spiritual powers, falling into the hands of the convent’s Abbess, played by Charlotte Rampling. But it becomes the perfect environment for her awakening: Jesus Christ comes to her in nighttime visions and enraptures her. What’s more, most of these visions — no matter how violent or sexual — are acted out in real life too: she bears the scars of a crucifixion, which should convince the convent that she’s now the chosen one to take over from the Abbess, but she’s sceptical: “No miracles occur in bed,” the Abbess says, deadpan.

Benedetta is littered with these kinds of on-the-nose allusions to its carnal core. Benedetta’s young companion Bartolomea does a good job of cajoling her into doing the deed, leading to several sex scenes between them — all, it might be added, helping to progress this deranged story further.

To say much more would spoil much of what makes Benedetta — a sapphic nun fuck fest — so invigorating and entertaining. For every arthouse film that demands you think deeper, there’s something refreshing about this smart, sharply written but not hugely demanding movie that reminds you that not all period dramas have to be stuffy. We’ll leave you with one phrase to tease you about its most grotesque and brilliant scene: religious effigy dildo. Good luck!

Benedetta premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, and was released in French cinemas on 9 July. It will be released in the UK and US later this year.

Cannes Film Festival