Paul Verhoeven is certainly one of world cinema’s nice provocateurs (the creator of Primary Intuition, Starship Troopers and Elle) and but probably the most surprising factor about Benedetta – his story of lesbian nuns in Seventeenth-century Tuscany – is how tame and even tasteful it seems to be. True, the plot (freely lifted from Judith C Brown’s 1986 guide Conceited Acts) hinges on the looks of a dildo whittled from a statue of the Virgin Mary – an incident which little doubt led to the movie being picketed on the New York movie competition and outright banned in Singapore.
For all that, Verhoeven’s dealing with is extra foolish than savage, extra playful than profane, which ensures that the image’s cloistered warmth by no means involves the boil. Virginie Efira performs the novice nun who sparks mass hysteria; Charlotte Rampling the bitter Mom Superior who insists that God’s biggest miracles not often occur in mattress. Each look like having fun with themselves, rattling merrily by way of all of the stage-managed mischief, the flamboyant excessive jinks, the showboating satire. On the danger of insulting Benedetta, it’s largely good, clear, healthful enjoyable.