Benedetta (Paul Verhoeven, 2021)

Paul Verhoeven’s retelling of the story of Benedetta Carlini may surprise fans of his most mainstream English-language work (for example, Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers), but it is deftly executed and performed to perfection by a strong cast, all of whom raise the bar of a smartly-written tale.

The film is set in 17th century Italy, where the titular Benedetta is taken to Pescia to become a nun. After a humorous but important opening scene of Benedetta as a child, we are transported to her in adulthood, as she begins to have visions of Jesus that raise her standing amongst her fellow sisters in the convent, belying her secret desires to start a lesbian relationship with a younger nun, the illiterate Bartolomea.

Virginie Efra on the set of Benedetta with Paul Verhoeven

Virginie Efira is in electric form in the lead role here. She is an experienced actress who has flourished in popularity in recent years with the likes of In Bed With Victoria and An Impossible Love, as well as Verhoeven’s last film Elle.

Charlotte Rampling also puts in a powerful supporting performance as Abbess Felicita, with Daphné Patakia completing the trio of female key players in a promising early role.

If there are any criticisms for the film, it’s that it feels a little slow and saggy at the start of the film proper, although viewers are more than rewarded as the film builds to a tremendous crescendo at the end of the film. Indeed, as a comet looms over the convent and the sky lights up in red hues, the action on the ground seems to offer a bigger threat to those in Pescia.

It never feels overblown or rushed, nor overly simple. I am seldom excited by a period piece, less so one set in a convent, but this had me gripped to the end. It is highly recommended.