Benedetta (2021) Film4, Directed by Paul Verhoeven, screenplay by David Birke and Paul Verhoeven, based on a historical novel Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by Judith C. Brown

‘For extraordinary events, you need extraordinary truth.’

You might have heard that line before. I’ve heard it used many times the claims aliens exist. Here it used by a Papal Nuncio (Lambert Wilson) interrogating Benedetta Carlini (Virginie Efira) and her account that Jesus appears and speaks to her directly. Based on true events, apparently?

It had me thinking of Aldous Huxley, The Devils of Loudon. Collective madness or possession by an external force? If the devil exists. God must also exist. The same kind of collective madness that had Joan of Arc hearing voices from God and taking command of the French army to drive the English out of their country. Her trial and renunciation of the celestial voice were documented, whilst her rape and torture were not.

Benedetta is enrolled in the Theatine convent by her parents as a girl. Abbess Felicita (Charlotte Ramping) knows a bit about life. She drives a hard bargain and gets Bendetta’s parents to pay a proper dowry. She’s got a business to run. No room for sentiment, or miracles.

Benedetta has cartoonish visions of Jesus saving her, which begins when playing the Virgin Mary in a convent play. She goes into an apparent trance-like state. Bartolomea (Daphné Patakia) a victim of incest and familial male violence is taken into the convent at Benedetta’s bidding. Her parents pay for Bartolomea’s keeping. Benedetta’s  cartoonish visions become sexual, with snakes attacking her, but Jesus cutting off their heads. Jesus also saves her from being gang-raped. Modern themes or ancient?

Benedetta and Bartolemea begin a sexual relationship. This is played out against a backdrop of stigmata and visions. Benedetta is appointed head of the convent by church officials in a power play, while they remain ambiguous about her validity. Ironically, Abbess Fellicita suggested that such visions could put their convent on the papal map and make it a place of pilgrimage and commercial opportunity, but she is removed from office.

Abbess Fellicita’s ally, nun Christina (Louise Chevillotte) claims to have seen Benedetta cut herself with glass to mimic the head wounds of a suffering Christ after being told she lacked the wounds of the full stigmata suffered by Saints such as suffered by Francis of Assisi. Viewers know her view was blocked, but she did see broken glass being hidden. Abbess Fellicita warns nun Christina not to voice her doubts about the apparent inauthenticity of these visions.

But she too spies on Benedetta in her old quarters, with a convenient spyhole. Bartolemea using a statue of the Virgin Mary as a dildo and fucking Benedetta with it to help her sexually climax. After her friend’s suicide she set out to report her to the Nuncio.

Like Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper, Christ leaning in to kiss the disciple he loved was not John, but Mary Magdalene, whom he loved sexually. A trope of The Da Vinci Code played out here in a different format. God is Jesus and a sexual being. Benedetta delivers warning of doom in a male voice when challenged.

Take your pick what you believe. Bit of a hotchpotch here is my belief tied together with lashings of sex to no great purpose. Not bad. Just not very good either.