This is one reason I love American and French cinema at its best. Even in films where nuns are basically the villains or a henchwoman, the idea that one woman has the capacity to change the world with her love of a man is always compelling.
Juliette Binoche-headlined “Benedetta” (Ingénue?) holds its own against some of the most acclaimed movies of the year.
Released in June, Verhoeven’s “Benedetta” is the tale of sixtysomething Dominican Sister Benedetta as she loses herself in a love triangle with a powerful doctor and an everyday man.
Verhoeven has been described by critics as one of the most controversial directors of the past 30 years, and “Benedetta” is one of the most passionate social dramas that he has written and directed.
Set in Venice, “Benedetta” is a deeply felt story about love, it’s about trying to heal wounds from a life inside the convent. Above all, it’s about how you can be loved without needing to be loved, and about the idea that love can be meaningful on a smaller scale than in big, dramatic settings.
In the very end, the way it fends off its critics is that it doesn’t have big, big stars and doesn’t suffer the trappings of a film by a big, big director.
The film is not for everyone, and it will not win awards for its acting, or its pacing.
But when it’s not about blowing up a hospital (“Starship Troopers”), not about having cold, sterile lab experiments run on hamsters (“Robocop”), and not about a couple of soldiers brutally killing Afghans (“Fury”), “Benedetta” is just about grappling with a deep existential crisis.
And then there is Sister Benedetta. Not as a damsel, but as a deeply lived-in, sad and confused woman with a love of a man that might stop her from crumbling into madness. (The daughter of a priest, Benedetta takes a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience.)
There are other characters in “Benedetta”, but the film is really about Benedetta and her fight to stay human, even as she slips back and forth between sadness and sadness, anger and anger.
Verhoeven gives Benedetta her own character. A different, but nonetheless interesting twist from the numerous role models we see, she’s not a saint, she’s just human, and that’s enough.