Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch director behind Elle with Isabelle Huppert from 2016, is back – this time with a film that is sure to be nicknamed “The Lesbian Nun’s Movie”. Based on Judith C. Brown’s 1986 novel Immodest Acts, it is set in late 15th century Pescia, Tuscany, in the midst of the bubonic plague control. The poster gives a pretty good idea of what the French-language film has in store: it shows the titular nun, played by Elles Virginie Efira, in a habit that barely obscures her bare nipple.
To say she is pious can be an understatement; She believes she is the bride of Jesus and that is why he gave her stigmata. Felecita (the legendary Charlotte Rampling) is not so sure about it. She is also on Benedetta’s burgeoning romance with fellow sister Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia). Even Benedetta wished it wasn’t true; she describes it as “blasphemy” and whips herself to repentance. The Tryst was just as controversial in real life. Verhoeven’s longtime collaborator, writer Gerard Soeteman, left the crew because it was too sexual. (He also reportedly accused Verhoeven of truncating the novel’s feminism in favor of “genital fiddling.”)
Benedetta’s fate is not surprisingly tragic. The trailer, which fell on Wednesday, finds her crucified, about to burn alive.
Benedetta is just the latest in a series of lesbian drama over the last few years. Francis Lee’s Ammonit (Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan), Célina Scamma’s Portrait of a Burning Lady (Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant), Vita & Virginia (Elizabeth Debicki and Gemma Arterton) and Saint Maud (Jenninfer Ehle and Morfydd Clark). Like Elle, Benedetta will premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and hit French cinemas on July 9th. (A U.S. release date has not yet been announced.)