While Paul Verhoeven’s work is broadcast this Good Friday on the MUBI video-on-demand platform, activists are circulating a petition to remove what they deem “pornographic” and “blasphemous”.
Benedetta is once again subject to censorship. Directed in 2021 by Paul Verhoeven with Virginie Efira and Daphné Patakia, the feature film will be released this Friday in Ireland and the United Kingdom, on the MUBI video-on-demand platform. An unbearable timing for a group of Catholic activists from Belfast, with regard to the Christian liturgy on this Good Friday, which precedes Easter. Having launched a petition which has gathered more than 13,000 signatures to date, the activists also deplore the scenes of explicit sex and violence between the two nuns.
“I strongly oppose and condemn the distribution and promotion of the film Benedetta by Paul Verhoeven. It offends God and countless Catholics around the world.”said in a petition, at the beginning of March, the Irish Society for Christian Civilization, based in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland.
The petition details the reasons why Benedetta must be deleted. “This immoral film blasphemously presents several intense embraces between Jesus and a nun”, is exposed first. The existence of a “statuette of Mary used as a sex toy”then pictures “pornographic” and “voyeurists” lesbian nuns featured throughout the film are also deemed unworthy.
At the turn of the 1600s, when the young Benedetta Carlini de Vellano, played by Virginie Efira, was only nine years old, she went to Tuscany to the Theatine convent of Pescia, a town located northwest of Florence. In the grip of mythical visions at a very young age, she presented for the first time the stigmata of crucifixion during Lent in the year 1619.
She will then meet Sister Bartolomea, with whom she will fall in love. She will maintain a carnal relationship with her, which will be unveiled in broad daylight by the former mother superior, played by Charlotte Rampling. Benedetta will end up being arrested and then tried.
A story told for the first time by Judith C. Brown, a historian from Stanford University who came across the documents relating to Benedetta’s trial in the Florence State Archives in 1978. Eight years later, she would write a book about it, entitled Sister Benedetta, between saint and lesbian, published in France by Gallimard the following year. It will serve as a starting point for Paul Verhoeven. But the group of Northern Irish Catholics disputes the few changes made by the director. According to them, the film is “loosely tailored” from the real story and based on “a file containing short transcripts, letters and summaries of documents that no longer exist“.
This is not the first time that this feature film has been the victim of censorship. Renowned The temptation in Russia, the film was originally scheduled to be released on October 7. The Russian Ministry of Culture withdrew his operating visa without giving any official reasons. According to the media Nezavissimaya, this decision would have been taken at the request of the Sorok Sorokov association, a Russian Christian youth movement. Shortly after, it was in the United States that several Catholic conservatives denounced, during its premiere in 59and New York Film Festival, his character again “blasphemous”.