Cannes film festival debut Benedetta, a biopic of a 17th century Italian novitiate Benedetta Carlini who contunues to receive what could be deemed "religious" visions but are intensely erotic. Director Paul Verhoeven exploits the lustful elements of the story and express them through explicit scenes between Benedetta and other nuns.
The movie is based on the book Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by historian Dr. Judith C. Brown, Ph.D.
Benedetta, of a wealthy merchant family, is a girl who believes the Virgin Mary speaks to her. She grows up wanting to go to the convent to prove her adoration to the Blessed Mother. But the local convent won't have her unless her family pays an exceptional sum.
The visions are now more carnal, even imagining an especially lust-wanting Jesus Christ. But her thoughts turn to a fellow novice at the convent.
Discomforting Christians around the world, especially Catholics, the movie makes use of a statuette of the Virgin Mary, carved smooth of wood, in a most indecent manner for any bishop to see.
Speaking of bishops, Catholics in Europe are already decrying the movie as sacrilege and blasphemous. Obviously.
Meanwhile, Benedetta is experiencing one of the most mysterious of miracles. She is suffering with stigmata, the wounds of Christ appearing on her own body.
Brown said in a tweet, "Paul Verhoeven and David Birke have written an imaginative and spellbinding script that explores the intersection of religion, sexuality, and human ambition in the age of plague and faith."
Nicholas Barber of the BBC said the movie is an almost typical period drama with scenery and costuming that befits the mood of plague-ridden Europe, but "the nudity and the blood-splashing are just a bonus."
Verhoeven is not new to controversy in film. He pushed the limits (of the time) in Basic Instinct and Showgirls.
Variety asked Verhoeven about the gay sex scenes in this and other films.
"It's a big part of the population," he expressed. "Homosexuality is part of life, so it should be a part of our dramas. Why should I ignore that? It's there. A certain part of the population is bisexual or homosexual or transgender, that's the reality. I come back to it because it's a normal part of life."
The film was screened at the Festival International du Film de Cannes this year and competed for the Palme d'Or prize, considered the highest prize in cinematic arts.