Review by Sean Boelman
Paul Verhoeven is inarguably one of the wildest filmmakers working today, with a filmography spanning from Showgirls to Starship Troopers. His newest movie, Benedetta, might sound like a regular old period drama on paper, but Verhoeven’s iconoclastic style shines through in a truly glorious manner.
The film follows a nun who begins suffering from religious and erotic visions which lead her into forming a sensuous relationship with one of her companions. The thing about Verhoeven’s movies is that their premise can often be boiled down into a few simple words, but end up feeling expansive and complex.
Like many of Verhoeven’s other films, the biggest thing that this has working in its favor is its sheer audacity. The movie has inspired protests throughout its festival run from religious groups attacking its supposed “blasphemy”, and while the reaction is overblown, it’s easy to understand why they are reacting this way. There is a lot of imagery that is incendiary… and quite hilarious.
Those expecting there to be a great deal of subtlety in the film’s exploration of its themes definitely aren’t familiar with Verhoeven and his work. He has never been particularly quiet in his movies about his frustrations with organized religion, and this one in particular really brings that to the forefront.
If there is something that is missing from the film it is character development. The romance at the center of the movie goes a long way in making things feel more grounded, especially during the more fantastical moments, but it doesn’t do a whole lot in making the character more compelling.
Virginie Efira does a solid job in her leading role. This is definitely the type of film that is very exaggerated in nature, and her performance is hammy enough to work in the role. Even more impressive, though, is Charlotte Rampling, who steals the show every single time she is on screen.
On a technical level, the movie is definitely very ambitious, and it pays off more often than it doesn’t. Even in some of the scenes that aren’t as visually polished, the amount of energy that Verhoeven puts into it is pretty admirable. The mix of the production design and spectacular fantasy works quite well.
Benedetta might not be a great film, but it’s a load of fun to watch in all of its insanity. It’s not for the easily offended, although it’s hard not to at least respect the gusto that Verhoeven showed in even attempting to make this, much less pull it off.
Benedetta is now in theaters and hits VOD on December 17.