Sponsored link
Friday, August 19, 2022

Sponsored link

Arts + CultureMoviesNew York Film Fest kicks off with blasphemous lesbian...

New York Film Fest kicks off with blasphemous lesbian nuns, protests

In the first Ficks' Picks dispatch from the fest, 'Joan of Arc' meets 'Xena: Warrior Princess' in Paul Verhoeven's 'Benedetta'

Achieving press accreditation to this year’s in person New York Film Festival, which runs September 24 to October 10 at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, felt like a gift from the cinema gods. Added to that, NYFF showcased the most exciting festival line-up to date in North America, including new films from Jane Campion, Joel Coen, Gaspar Noe, Julia Ducournau, Mike Mills, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Saul Williams, and Sean Baker. Just being back in a movie theatre (every attendee needed to show proof of vaccination) brought tears to many peoples’ eyes. Here is the first of my spoiler-free Ficks’ Picks for the upcoming end of the year onslaught of high profile international films. (You can print them all out and post them on your fridge as a reminder that cinema is not dead.) 

Nothing could have attracted audiences more to the US premiere of Paul Verhoeven’s latest “blasphemous lesbian nun flick” then a real-life protest by Catholic groups (complete with bagpipes and drums) outside the Lincoln Center this past weekend. At the age of 83, the Dutch provocateur has been a consistent thorn in the side of acceptable cinema for over 50 years and Benedetta is easily one of the most deliciously sensational and poignantly political films of the year.

For anyone who grew up sneaking into the Hollywood blockbuster multiplexes of the 1980s and ’90s or happening across a VHS tape or DVD of Paul Verhoeven’s subversive science fiction cinema—Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1991), Starship Troopers (1997), Hollow Man (1999)—they all showcased confrontational hyper-violence, often off-set by screenwriter Ed Neumeier’s unstoppably ironic screenplays. When Verhoeven switched gears to the erotic thriller and teamed up with screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, he immediately ignited controversial protests on both political sides with his Hitchcock homage Basic Instinct (1992).

This was followed up with perhaps the most infamous film of the era: Showgirls (1995), a master class on the perils of capitalism that is still massively misunderstood. Certain critics started to note that Verhoeven might be as complex as fellow transgressive filmmakers Pedro Almodovar and John Waters, as he consistently revealed a devilishly maniacal, even misanthropic mindset that was profoundly pulsating beneath all of his pop culture. Yet, like studio filmmakers of the past (i.e. John Ford), when asked point-blank what his underlying goals were when making a movie, he very often would respond with, “I wanted the bugs to much bigger!”

What makes this most recent tour-de-force Benedetta so bewitching is its deep-seated connection to the earliest films he made in the Netherlands. His second feature, Turkish Delight (1972) not only made Rutger Hauer and Monique van de Ven international superstars, the film was a phenomenon garnering Verhoeven an Oscar nomination for Best Director. The film still stands as the most revered (& successful) movie in the history of Dutch cinema. This was followed by Katie Tippel (1975) also showcasing Van de ven and Hauer, a shockingly raw 19th Century adaptation of a rural family emigrating to the big city. Verhoeven was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1977 for his heartbreaking WWII account Soldier of Orange, while Spetters (1980), a neo-realist look at working class lives of a group of disaffected dirt bike riders, kick-started Verhoeven’s infamy at instigating audiences to protest his films.

All of these early films explore similar themes as Benedetta by focusing on the wandering outsiders of our society. (Elizabeth Berkeley’s appropriately named Nomi in Showgirls fits perfectly into this thesis.) Virginie Efira whole-heartedly tackles the title role of Benedetta Carlini, a 17th century novice nun who joins an Italian convent, only to find herself questioning her own desires. The film is based loosely on Judith C. Brown’s 1986 non-fiction book, Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy.  With medieval set pieces and aesthetics that feel like a cinephile’s wet dream, combining the art house cinema of Carl Theodor Dreyer—Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and Ordet (1955)—with Robert Tapert and Sam Raimi’s “Xena: Warrior Princess” (1995-2001), nothing can prepare you for Benedetta’s late-nite fantasies involving sinful serpents and a bareback riding Jesus.

As the film reaches its eerily prophetic climax, both Daphne Patakia and Charlotte Rampling’s stunning performances punctuate how truly brutal the laws regarding sexual freedoms have been to those that don’t fit in. This exuberantly revisionist, biblical tale is a fitting finale to Paul Verhoeven’s irrepressible 50-year master plan and will be released by IFC Films on December 3.

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks is the Film History Coordinator at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, teaches adjunct at Chapman University, is part of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle and curates/hosts “MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS,” a film series celebrating underrated & overlooked cinema in a neo-sincere manner.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks is the film history coordinator at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and is part of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. He curates and hosts “MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS,” a film series celebrating underrated and overlooked cinema, in a neo-sincere manner.

Sponsored link

Sponsored link

Top reads

No, San Francisco is not riven by a left vs. left ideological split

This old story is back, and it's still wrong: There are real, serious issues between the progressives and the corporate power structure

The Laguna Honda crisis never should have happened

If Gavin Newsom had shown some leadership, the terror that patients face could have been avoided.

Here’s the most important data in the new report on homelessness in SF

A massive failure of housing policy, at the state and local level, is behind this ongoing crisis.

More by this author

What we saw at Sundance: Documentary dives into Myanmar midwives, volcano lovers, more

A Syrian migrant crane operator in Beirut, Kanye's rap rise, Watergate whistleblower Martha Mitchell among big fest subjects

What we saw at Sundance: ‘Speak No Evil,’ ‘The Nanny,’ ‘Fresh,’ more fest sensations

Plus: Aubrey Plaza as a criminal mastermind, overwhelming 'Palm Trees and Power Lines,' more features and shorts

What we saw at Sundance ’22, part 1: demented animation, Filipina country stars, more

Perfect pairings of our favorite features and shorts from this year's dazzling film fest (keep them in mind for later viewing)
Sponsored link

You might also likeRELATED