The Russian Ministry of Culture has withdrawn the operating visa without official reason. In the United States, demonstrators judge “blasphemous” Paul Verhoeven’s film with Virginie Efira.
With sex, violence and religion, Benedetta do not leave indifferent. If France welcomed it with open arms in its theaters on July 9, the day of its presentation in official competition in Cannes which ended with a standing ovation, its distribution does not go smoothly abroad. The operating visa has just been withdrawn by the Russian Ministry of Culture, reports International mail . The democratic daily Nezavissimaïa Gazeta laments in his columns: “The Russians are going to have to accept that we decide for them what they can and cannot watch”. The output of Benedetta, renamed The temptation in Russia, was scheduled for October 7.
Scenes deemed pornographic
The film is adapted from Sister Benedetta, historical account of the American researcher Judith C. Brown. During the 18th centurye century, in the midst of a plague epidemic, Benedetta Carlini (played by Virginie Efira) joined the convent of Pescia, in Tuscany, convinced that she was in contact with God. The nun meets Sister Bartolomea. The attraction between the two women turns to the pleasures of the flesh. Their lesbian relationship revealed, Benedetta is arrested and tried for sapphism.
Paul Verhoeven tastes homegrown, which bothers the most orthodox. If the Ministry of Culture does not advance any details regarding the ban on Benedetta, the same Russian daily talks about “lobby”. In fact, behind the censorship lies the Sorok Sorokov association, whose members are sometimes referred to as Orthodox Taliban. The ban, however, was decided without the film having been viewed, recalls the newspaper. “Based on rumors, one can of course imagine that the film Benedetta is just a collection of pornographic scenes whose sole purpose is desecration. […] But in doing so, we lose sight of the director’s larger purpose: to study the nature of religious exaltation, often mixed with sexual passion and thirst for power. However, these themes are very current in Russia.“.
“Some would have appreciated it, because according to critics who have watched the film in the West, it is a powerful psychological drama and, in a sense, a religious mystery., continue the daily Nezavissimaïa. Others would undoubtedly have complained against certain scenes deemed pornographic, seeing them as an offense against Christian symbols. But that won’t happen“.
The film is added to the long list of productions censored by the local distributor. The kissing and sex scenes between men in Rocketman, the biopic on Elton John, produced in 2019, have been removed in the name of Russian law cracking down on gay propaganda.
Protest in New York
The reactions are no less strong in the United States. Sunday September 26, during the premiere of Benedetta to 59e New York Film Festival, a dozen conservative Catholics gathered outside the Alice Tully Hall performance hall to denounce the character “blasphemous” from the biographical film. “Why the endless insults to Jesus?”, could one read on a sign.
Witness to this event, festival participants posted photos and videos on social media, stressing that this is excellent publicity for the film. The festival’s Twitter account even used one of the snapshots with unflattering slogans to announce the film’s upcoming screening dates.
In a note of intent, Paul Verhoeven was very clear about his vision for Benedetta. “I was drawn to the boldness and uniqueness of this story, to the mix between Christianity and lesbian sexuality. The character interested me, with the question of knowing if you can manipulate people without realizing that you are manipulating them. On the other hand, I have always been intrigued by Jesus, I even wrote a book about him. This film shows my interest in religions, but also my doubts about religious realities. ” To date, neither Verhoeven nor representatives have spoken about the censorship.