If there was one director who knew how to make a stir in the late eighties and nineties it’s Paul Verhoeven. With films like RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Showgirls and Starship Troopers, the Dutch director courted controversy and debate, often concerning the use of violence and sex.
Having not had much success in recent years, as well as slowing down on his output, Verhoeven returns to the familiar ground of sexuality, in what feels like a blatant attempt to be seen as relevant once again.
As a child, Benedetta finds herself being left by her parents, to be raised in a convent in Pescia, Tuscany. After eighteen years, Benedetta (Virginie Efira) finds herself close to God, closer than those nuns around her in fact, as she often has visions of Jesus.
When a young woman, Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia), who has been severely mistreated by her family, arrives at the nunnery seeking shelter, Benedetta soon delvelops a strong friendship with her. However, their friendship develops further, that takes sisterly love to a whole new level, one that is far from approved of by their fellow nuns.
Although based on true events, Verhoeven’s take on the story is unsurprisingly direct. So much so, that its graphic nature featuring a fair amount of nudity and same sex, often resembles those porn flicks that feature porn puns on Hollywood blockbusters; to that end, it really should be titled Bonerdetta.
It also almost feels as if the intriguing story itself, of a woman who may well be suffering from real visions, or simply putting it on to make a name for herself within the church, gets in the way of all the sex stuff that Verhoeven appears keen to explore at any given moment.
The result is a feature that is sorely lacking in subtlety, but in his defence, that’s hardly been a strong point throughout the director’s career.
Verhoeven will no doubt be pleased to be seen as controversial once more, but sadly it’s at the expense of a story that deserved far better treatment than this.