Banned in Russia and branded as “blasphemous”. This is ‘Benedetta’, the controversial film based on real events

Paul Verhoeven is placed behind the cameras of the film about a mystical and lesbian nun. Virginie Efira stars in the feature film, which premieres on Movistar+ on April 22.

A mystical and lesbian nun. That is the protagonist of Benedetta, the new film from the provocative filmmaker of Basic Instinct (1992) Paul Verhoeven. The film was surrounded by controversy. As expected, The film, which is based on real events, provoked protests from conservative Christian groups during its presence in different competitions.

Benedetta is based on a true story, although Verhoeven has fictionalized some elements of the film in favor of the film’s narrative. Benedetta Carlini was a woman born in 1591 who grew up in an Italian middle-class family. At an early age she entered the Convent of the Mother of God in Pescia (Italy) to become a nun.

At the age of 30, she was named abbess and began to have visions of men who wanted to kill her. Her companions feared that she was possessed by the devil and her story reached Rome. By then, the papacy wanted to silence mystics who showed signs of a spirituality not in accordance with established religious customs.

When the upper echelons of the Catholic Church visited Benedetta’s convent, they discovered that she was holding a lesbian relationship with another of the nuns: bartholomew. The latter testified stating that they had had sexual relations when Benedetta was possessed by the spirit of a demon called Splenditello. Due to these practices, Benedetta was imprisoned, removed from the position of abbess, and placed under guard until she died in 1661. Bartolomea died a year before her.

For the film, Verhoeven has been based on the book written by the historian Judith C. Brown titled Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. However, and as we have already told you, the filmmaker has taken certain liberties. In the film, for example, a wooden figure of the Virgin Mary is transformed into a dildo, which is used by the leading couple.

This, added to other sexual encounters between Benedetta and Bartolomea -played in the film by Daphne Patakia-, caused the anger of the most Catholic groups. For example, the news agency based in Lima (Peru) ACI Prensa began a collection of signatures to “stop the broadcast” of Verhoeven’s film, which they labeled as “blasphemous.”

In Russia, according to the TASS agency, the film was Banned by the Ministry of Culture for its “provocative content” and, although its release was scheduled for October 7, it was denied a distribution license.

Benedetta was also screened at the New York Film Festival and a group of Catholics protested against it. Their banners read messages such as: “Stop the blasphemy now!”, “Why the endless insults to Jesus?”, “We vehemently protest against the blasphemous film Benedetta, which insults the sanctity of Catholic nuns,” “Defamation is not freedom of expression,” “Stop offending God,” and “I’m a Catholic, stop attacking my faith.”

During our visit to the 69th edition of the San Sebastián Film Festival, an event in which Benedetta was part of the Perlak section, we spoke with its leading actress. Efira said the following about whether she was afraid of the criticism that the film could receive when accepting the role: “Criticism can come, but this is not something negative, it is something that is part of the job and I like the risk, playing with those borders.”

Virginie Efira, Paul Verhoeven’s controversial lesbian nun in ‘Benedetta’: “Criticism is part of the job and I like the risk”

Verhoeven, for his part, spoke about the criticism at the Cannes Film Festival. “You can’t change history. You can’t change things that have happened. And I’ve based it on things that happened,” he told Variety. “So, I think the word ‘blasphemy’ in this case is stupid.”