Film and TV

‘Blasphemous lesbian movie’ protested by Catholics is actually a passionate true story

Emma Powys Maurice September 29, 2021
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Benedetta

Catholic protestors at a New York screening of 'Benedetta' (Twitter/@TomiLaffly)

Catholic protesters descended on a New York cinema for the premiere of the “blasphemous” lesbian nun film Benedetta, presumably unaware it’s based on a true story.

The acclaimed film from Basic Instinct director Paul Verhoeven stars Virginie Efira as Benedetta Carlini, a novice nun in the 17th century who joins an Italian convent and has a passionate love affair with another nun.

It’s sparked predictable outrage among conservative circles, culminating in an angry picket outside the Lincoln Center in New York on Sunday (26 September).

Around 30 members of the American Society for the Defence of Tradition, Family and Property gathered to denounce the film, chanting Hail Marys into megaphones while waving a banner that declared: “We vehemently protest the blasphemous lesbian movie Benedetta, that insults the sanctity of Catholic nuns.”

But it seems their fears of a “moral crisis shaking the remnants of Christian civilisation” didn’t stop them from watching the film themselves, IndieWire reports.

Inside the theatre before the premiere began, New York Film Festival programmer Dennis Lim asked the audience “How many Catholics are with us?” About a third of the audience raised their hands.

Verhoeven has bristled at the suggestion Benedetta is in any way blasphemous, telling reporters at the Cannes Film Festival that he had nothing to be ashamed of because the events were based on true events.

“I don’t understand really how you can be blasphemous about something that happened,” the director said. “Even if it’s in 1625, it’s true, mostly. Of course, we changed a little bit.”

Benedetta trailer
Virginie Efira leads the cast of Paul’s Verhoeven’s “Benedetta” (YouTube/Pathe)

Benedetta: the true story

The film is loosely based on the 1986 non-fiction book “Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy” by Judith C Brown, which chronicles the incredible life of Benedetta Carlini.

Carlini was born to a middle-class Italian family which was able to buy her a place in the Convent of the Mother of God at Pescia. When she was 30, Benedetta was made abbess of the convent, but then reported a disturbing series of visions in which men were trying to kill her.

Fearful that Sister Benedetta was being harassed by demonic entities, the other nuns assigned her a companion, Sister Bartolomea Crivelli, who was supposed to remain with her at all times.

Her more disturbing visions stopped after Bartolemea’s arrival but she still experienced the alleged supernatural visitations – and presumably, visitations of another kind as well.

According to Bartolemea, she and Benedetta would regularly make love to each other, and eventually both would experience the “mystical epiphanies” that Sister Benedetta described.

Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and eventually their relationship came to the attention of the papacy. According to Brown, it may not have been Benedetta’s sexuality that led to her downfall as much as her “egotism”; either way, Bartolemea was interrogated until she revealed that she and Benedetta were lovers.

Bartolemea’s admission was enough to ensure that Benedetta was stripped of her primacy as abbess and then held under guard for the remaining 35 years of her life. She eventually died in 1661, a year after her former lover.

Related topics: Benedetta, Catholic Church, New York

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