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

The actress stars in the new project of the provocative director of ‘Basic Instinct’. The film hits theaters this Friday, October 1.

Before Virginie Efira agreed to play Paul Verhoeven’s new heroine in Benedetta, the director wanted to be sure that he would be able to do some of the quirks that his new film demanded. “Verhoeven is a person who has the need to know that I am capable of doing it from the first moment. He told me: ‘There is a lot of sex’. I said: ‘No problem’. He said: ‘With girls’. I replied:’ No problem”recalls the actress for SensaCine at San Sebastian Film Festival. After competing for the Palme d’Or in Cannes and be part of the section Perlak in the San Sebastian contest, Benedetta hits theaters this Friday, October 1st.

The new from Verhoeven is based on real events and the book written by Judith C. Brown Inmodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. The film by the director of Basic instinct (1992) tells the story of the mystical lesbian nun Benedetta Carlini, who worked miracles since she was a child and was part of the congregation of the theatines in a convent in Pescia (Italy) in the seventeenth century.

“I didn’t know Benedetta’s story at all. I knew her when Paul showed me the book,” says Efira. “When I read the script I stopped every three pages because I was in ‘shock’. They were strong, particular scenes and I was very expectant. I was very excited by this story and by this type of character. Because of the ambiguity of everything, because of the theme. from the movie. You don’t always get a story like that. “.


Provocative as always, the new from Verhoeven has already received criticism from the Christian community and in Russia the premiere of the film has been banned. ACI Prensa -a news and resources service of the Catholic Church- has started a campaign to collect signatures for “stop the spreading of the blasphemous movie Benedetta, that desecrates an image of the Mother of God “. Also during the New York Film Festival, a group of Catholics protested against the film.

It was to be expected that a movie like this, starring a lesbian nun that use a statue of the Virgin Mary as a dildo, would result in such a reaction. However, Efira acknowledges that she was not afraid to accept the role:

Criticisms 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. Paul Verhoeven likes ‘kitsch’ elements, he likes to go further, to cross the borders of sensuality, to go towards the raw, towards the extremes. It is true that, perhaps, within religion, he studies dogma in a very particular way

Verhoeven, for his part, wanted the ambiguity of Benedetta that Efira talks about to permeate the viewer even after leaving the movie theater. The protagonist has visions of Jesus Christ, suffers stigmata and performs miracles, but there are some details that suggest that not everything is of divine origin. Is Benedetta a mystic or a manipulator?

“First of all, I think the movie talks about the power of belief. She is accompanied by her beliefs and that is a relationship that develops without lies.”Efira responds, without deciding whether Benedetta is one thing or the other. “As for whether she is manipulative, she does what she wants… There is not such a clear line between what is right and wrong.”


Efira recognizes that it was not difficult to prepare to give life to a character like Benedetta. “It is not very difficult to prepare a role as an actress,” she says. The most complex thing was to delve into the ambiguity of the protagonist. “I had to wonder where the character should be positioned”.

As for working with Verhoeven, the actress describes him as “a filmmaker of the image” and with very clear ideas. “He has the ‘storyboard’ in his head. He is very clear about it. Regarding the direction of actors, I have looked a little for what I really wanted to express. I have looked for it in myself. He told me: ‘You know what you have to do, “says Efira, imitating the director’s Dutch accent.

When Verhoeven premiered She (2016), his last feature film before Benedetta, in an interview with SensaCine, the director laughed when he exclaimed: “Now I happen to be a feminist!”. For Efira, the director always has been.

Paul Verhoeven (‘Elle’): “Now I happen to be a feminist!”

“Not only Benedetta, in all his filmography. I consider Verhoeven to have been a totally feminist filmmaker, even before #MeToo. “says the actress. “In movies like Basic instinct He already denounces the patriarchy, and throughout his cinematographic journey. Benedetta is a character who does not put herself at the feet of men’s sexuality. Verhoeven also doesn’t prevent the characters from having a good head. They are characters who fight for freedom, women who are standing and who are free. ”