The director of Basic Instinct and Showgirls takes on religion…
If you need a succinct reminder of how far Ireland has come – both culturally and simply in terms of being a little healthier – look no further than the release of Benedetta in Irish cinemas.
Directed and co-written by Paul Verhoeven, a man who has never encountered a sex scene or an act of violence that couldn’t be brought to eleven – he’s the man behind Basic Instinct, Showgirls, Starship Troopers and the original (and great) versions of RoboCop and Total Recall – it sees him tackle a controversial story set within the confines of religion.
Not to spoil anything, but Jesus Christ himself appears throughout the film, and always depicted as a figure to be coveted. At one point, he is shown completely naked and seduces the film’s main character, Benedetta Carlini (a gorgeous Virginie Efira), who also happens to have a love affair with another nun from her convent (Daphne Patakia).
To say that in 1996 Showgirls was banned in Ireland because the film contained the phrase ‘Jesus Fucking Christ’ is truly a testament to our progress.
Which does not mean that the same thing applies everywhere else in the world…
It also shows how far Verhoeven has come as a filmmaker, as he’s less likely to turn to his hammer-like use of metaphor, having become adept at using the scalpel instead.
As the story (based on a true story) takes place within the walls of a 17th century Tuscan abbey, the ramifications of the actions and reactions within this film are still massively prevalent today. Initial reaction to Benedetta’s erotic visions of Jesus branded her mad and/or a heretic, while her relationship with her co-worker also finds her on trial for sapphism.
And while that might seem like heavy and potentially depressing subject matter to broach, Verhoeven does it all with a cheeky glint in his eye, never straying too far from a scathing one-liner to help keep the film’s tone going. consistent with its ideologies.
Not judging anyone’s faith or sexuality, Verhoeven presents Benedetta’s story from his perspective as if it were, well, gospel, but maintains that underlying playfulness, abandoning her only when her story encounters the horror and sometimes violence of those around her.
As is almost always the case with Verhoeven’s work, it’s always smart, entertaining and, yes, erotic, filled with great performances, but there’s a lot of heart and emotion at the center of this film. He is 83 years old, but Verhoeven proves that you are never too old to continue to “grow”.
But it also features a sexy naked Jesus, so luckily Verhoeven hasn’t completely given up trying to shock us yet, either.
Benedetta hits Irish theaters on Friday 15th April.
Extract via IFC Films and Steve Kobian