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Lesbian nun thriller Benedetta, which features a Virgin Mary sex toy, has been hit by backlash from Catholic groups who have labelled it ‘appalling’ and ‘blasphemous’ as it opens in the UK and Ireland on Easter weekend.

The film is based on the real-life story of 17th century nun Benedetta Carlini, who was imprisoned for having a sexual relationship with a fellow sister in a Tuscan nunnery.

It garnered headlines when it premiered at film festivals and in the US last year and is now opening in the UK to mixed reviews from critics who say it will have ‘viewers blushing into their popcorn’.  

The Daily Mail’s Brian Viner wrote that it ‘veers between soft porn and Carry On Up The Nunnery’.

Lesbian nun thriller Benedetta, which features a Virgin Mary sex toy (pictured), has been hit by backlash from Catholic groups who have labelled it 'appalling' and 'blasphemous' as it opens in the UK and Ireland on Easter weekend

Lesbian nun thriller Benedetta, which features a Virgin Mary sex toy (pictured), has been hit by backlash from Catholic groups who have labelled it 'appalling' and 'blasphemous' as it opens in the UK and Ireland on Easter weekend

Lesbian nun thriller Benedetta, which features a Virgin Mary sex toy (pictured), has been hit by backlash from Catholic groups who have labelled it ‘appalling’ and ‘blasphemous’ as it opens in the UK and Ireland on Easter weekend 

Religious groups have condemned the film’s release.   

In Ireland, Catholics have been left enraged by one particular scene, which features a statue of the Virgin Mary being used as a sex toy.

Speaking to RTE’s Liveline, objector John O’Donovan said: ‘There is an attack on Christians and Catholicism right around the world. ‘ 

And earlier in the week, Damien Murphy, who is a spokesman for the Irish Society for Christian Civilisation, said: ‘This movie is a fraud and nothing more than a blatant attack on the Catholic faith.

‘There is no way that a director would depict Mohammed acting in a sexual manner. There is not one director in Hollywood or Europe who would dare mock Mohammed or the Jewish faith – it just wouldn’t happen.’

Labelling the film provocative and sexy, it has been met with mostly rave reviews by critics, who have called director Verhoeven 'religion-obsessed' and referred to the taboo nature of his releases

Labelling the film provocative and sexy, it has been met with mostly rave reviews by critics, who have called director Verhoeven 'religion-obsessed' and referred to the taboo nature of his releases

Labelling the film provocative and sexy, it has been met with mostly rave reviews by critics, who have called director Verhoeven ‘religion-obsessed’ and referred to the taboo nature of his releases

The group has also launched a petition against the film’s release, labelling it an ‘insult’ to release the film on Good Friday. 

It has drawn more than 13,000 signatures. The petition states: ‘I strongly oppose and condemn your distribution and promotion of Paul Verhoeven’s film Benedetta. It offends God, and countless Catholics all over the world.’

And the petition claims the movie is ‘blasphemous’, featuring ‘several Jesus-on-nun intense ‘make outs’, ‘a statuette of Mary Most Holy used as a sex-toy’ and ‘voyeuristic lesbian nuns ‘pornography.’ 

But in 2021, Verhoeven hit back at critics: ‘I don’t really understand how you can really blaspheme about something that happened, even in 1625. 

‘You cannot change history, you cannot change things that happened, and I based it on the things that happened. So I think the word blasphemy in this case is stupid.’

The Irish Society for Christian Civilisation has launched a petition against the film's release, labelling it an 'insult' to release the film on Good Friday

The Irish Society for Christian Civilisation has launched a petition against the film's release, labelling it an 'insult' to release the film on Good Friday

The Irish Society for Christian Civilisation has launched a petition against the film’s release, labelling it an ‘insult’ to release the film on Good Friday

A snapshot of what the critics have to say… 

The Daily Mail 

Rating:

Brian Viner wrote: I first saw Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. The Dutch writer-director is greatly admired there, but his French-language movie got a mixed reception — rightly so.

It veers between soft porn and Carry On Up The Nunnery in its telling of the supposedly true story of Sister Benedetta (Virginie Efira), who is revered for her apparent hotline to the Almighty, but is punished for a love affair with another nun.

With Charlotte Rampling as a mother extremely superior and cinematography that makes every other frame look like a Rembrandt, Benedetta would be a wimple-tastic new entry in the peculiar new genre of period lesbian drama (Ammonite etc) if it weren’t so melodramatic.

i

Rating:

 

Christina Newland writes: Provocative, sexy, and riven with tongue-in-cheek humour (see: a Virgin Mary statue moulded into a dildo), Benedetta feels like vintage Paul Verhoeven in all the best ways…

Filmed with an eye for religious iconography and Renaissance-era symbolism that is stately in aesthetic and darkly amusing in tone, the style is well-suited to the subject in Benedetta. 

And when the nuns lose themselves to sensual abandon, so too the camera begins to careen toward them, their (pointed?) cries of “my God” all the more gorgeously blasphemous as a result. 

Empire

Rating:

John Nugent writes: ‘It’s an entirely European production — a Dutch director, working in the French language on a film set in Italy — but to its marrow, this is B-movie exploitation Hollywood.

Inevitably, that means not every viewer will be singing from the same hymn sheet. Some are bound to be offended; others will just find it juvenile or absurd.

But true disciples will appreciate the outlandish craft and courage of Verhoeven’s best film in years: a feminist allegory about a woman establishing power in a patriarchal system — through faith, love and dildos. 

The Independent 

Rating:

Clarisse Loughrey writes: In Benedetta, master provocateur Paul Verhoeven demolishes the line between the sacred and the profane. The breast becomes holy, a source of nourishment from which religious fervour can stem. 

‘Benedetta struts around in the cloth of something far trashier than it really is – the sex scenes feel more like giddy exploration than something truly lurid, and Jeanne Lapoirie’s cinematography remains tastefully muted in its tones. 

‘That’s despite the film featuring a cutaway of a performing fool being chased around by skeletons while lighting his own farts. As Benedetta says: “Shame does not exist under God’s love”.’ 

True story behind lesbian nun thriller Benedetta: Raunchy film showing two Sisters using the Virgin Mary as a sex toy is based on real-life 17th century abbess who seduced a woman while claiming to have erotic visions of Jesus 

Verhoeven based his film on Immodest Acts: The Life Of A Lesbian Nun In Renaissance Italy, published by American historian and professor Professor Judith C. Brown in 1986. 

The story of Benedetta had attained mythical status in Italy and was passed down through generations but Prof Brown gave the story academic credibility by unearthing new documents in the state archives in Florence, which confirmed the authenticity of the story.

Born in 1591, Benedetta Carlini grew up in a respectable middle-class Italian family who educated her – a rarity for the time – and paid particular attention to her religious upbringing.

By the age of five, she knew the litany of the saints and other prayers by heart. At the age of six, Benedetta learned to read and even knew a little from Latin.

The film also documents the power struggles Benedetta faces, both with the nuncio (Lambert Wilson) and the Abbess (Charlotte Rampling)

The film also documents the power struggles Benedetta faces, both with the nuncio (Lambert Wilson) and the Abbess (Charlotte Rampling)

The film also documents the power struggles Benedetta faces, both with the nuncio (Lambert Wilson) and the Abbess (Charlotte Rampling)

What is perhaps most extraordinary is that Benedetta actually existed, and these events - or at least a version of them - actually took place. Above, painting of a 17th century nun

What is perhaps most extraordinary is that Benedetta actually existed, and these events - or at least a version of them - actually took place. Above, painting of a 17th century nun

What is perhaps most extraordinary is that Benedetta actually existed, and these events – or at least a version of them – actually took place. Above, painting of a 17th century nun

One day, when Benedetta was still a young girl, a black dog tried to drag her away but was frightened off by her screams. But when her mother appeared, the dog had vanished. The family decided that it had in fact been the devil disguised as an animal.

She also claimed to be able to communicate with a nightingale, a symbol of carnal love.   

Benedetta entered The Convent of the Mother of God in Pescia, Tuscany, at the age of nine. 

At the time in Renaissance Italy, middle-class families often ‘bought’ their daughters a place at a convent because it was a quarter of the cost of a marriage dowry and conferred respectability. 

And one said that the film is so explicit, it might leave watchers 'blushing into their popcorn'

And one said that the film is so explicit, it might leave watchers 'blushing into their popcorn'

And one said that the film is so explicit, it might leave watchers ‘blushing into their popcorn’

Shortly after arriving at the convent, Benedetta was almost crushed by a statue of the Madonna while praying. She thought this was a miracle and showed that the statue wanted to kiss her. The young novice took this as a sign of the power of God.

However her early years in the convent were otherwise unremarkable. It was only at the age of 23 that she first reported the supernatural visions.     

She reported ‘visions’ which came to her, including one in which Jesus asked to take her as his wife.

Other visions were more graphic and sexual. She would ‘speak’ in the voices of angels and underwent a mock marriage ceremony at the convent where only she could ‘see’ Jesus, her new husband.

Some of her visions occurred in front of witnesses who noted she had gone into a trance-like state in which she appeared to be in an altered state of consciousness. However others were less convinced by Benedetta and feared she could be a fraud. 

She became a sensation with people flocking to see her and once showed stigmata on her hands –bleeding wounds similar to the ones the Bible says Christ suffered during the Crucifixion. At the age of 30, she was made abbess of the convent.  

The other nuns were so concerned by her increasingly disturbing claims that they reported her actions to the papal council in Rome and were ordered to confine Sister Benedetta to her room. 

A young novice nun, Sister Bartolomea Crivelli, was assigned to watch over her. However, the pair embarked on a lesbian affair, with Benedetta claiming she was possessed by a male demon and so it was not a sin. 

Benedetta was subject to two inquiries. The first found she was truly blessed, but the second discovered many inconsistencies in her stories, and was backed by testimony from other nuns. 

Nuns told how they saw Benedetta inflicting the apparent stigmata on herself, and testified that they had seen her eating meat and cheese, despite these foods apparently being banned by Christ in her visions. 

Another nun had seen her put her blood on a statue of Christ, which Benedetta then claimed began to bleed in honour of her sanctity.

The most startling testimony came from Bartolomea, who detailed their sexual relationship. 

As the investigators noted: ‘This sister Benedetta, then, for two continuous years, at least three times a week, in the evening after disrobing and going to bed would wait for her companion to disrobe, and pretending to need her, would call. 

‘When Bartolomea would come over, Benedetta would grab her by the arm and throw her by force on the bed. Embracing her, she would put her under herself and kissing her as if she was a man, she would speak words of love to her. 

‘And she would stir on top of her so much that both of them corrupted themselves. And thus by force she held her sometimes one, sometimes two, and sometimes thee hours. 

‘And Benedetta would tell her that neither she nor Benedetta were sinning because it was the Angel Splenditello and not she that did these things. And she spoke always with the voice which Splenditello always spoke through Benedetta.’  

In Verhoeven’s movie, the title role is played by Belgian actress and former television presenter Virginie Efira. 

Her lover is portrayed by Daphne Patakia, another unknown Belgian starlet. Both women are set to become stars thanks to their erotic on-screen lovemaking.

The film paints a more ambiguous portrait of Benedetta and what transpired in the convent.

The film shows an 18-year-old Benedetta experiencing erotic visions of a naked Jesus, who instructs her to remove her clothes. 

This apparent closeness to God, as well as her stigmata, elevates her above her fellow nuns and leads to the ousting of the convent’s Abbess (Charlotte Rampling).  

From the moment Benedetta and Bartolomea meet in the convent, the sexual attraction is clear. Unlike in real life, it is Bartolomea who seeks out the relationship.

‘She is, of course, very happy when Benedetta gains more and more power, even if she doesn’t really believe her [visions],’ Patakia told the New York Times. 

‘But she doesn’t care, because what she wants she can get through Benedetta’s power, because they can have a room of their own and they can explore and experience whatever they want.

‘They both want the power to do whatever they want, and I think that’s also what they share in common, but maybe it’s more clear for Bartolomea.’

While some believe Benedetta’s visions, others, including Rampling’s character and the nuncio (Lambert Wilson), question her motives. Their suspicions lead to a trial that concludes with Benedetta losing her position.   

A similar fate befell the real Benedetta.  

Papal authorities determined her revelations were the work of the Devil, not God; ‘a diabolical obsession’. They stripped her of her rank and she was in the convent’s ‘prison’ for the remaining 35 years of her life until she died in 1661.   

 

Source: dailymail

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