Benedetta is an upcoming biographical drama directed and co-written by acclaimed filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, perhaps best known for Robocop and Starship Troopers. The movie stars Virginie Efira as Benedetta Carlini, a novice nun in the 17th century who joins an Italian convent in Pescia, Tuscany, who then begins a love affair with another woman. Benedetta will have its premiere at Cannes, and was picked up for U.S. distribution by IFC Films.
The film is based on the 1986 non-fiction novel “Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy” by Judith C. Brown. Paul Verhoeven brings back most of his key crew members from his previous film Elle, (which co-starred Efira), producer Saïd Ben Saïd, writer David Birke, composer Anne Dudley, and editor Job ter Burg. You can take a look at the short teaser below.
Benedetta is scheduled to premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival in competition for the Palme d’Or. Virginie Efira as Benedetta Carlini, Lambert Wilson as The Nuncio, Daphne Patakia as Bartolomea, Charlotte Rampling as The Abbess, Olivier Rabourdin, Clotilde Courau, Hervé Pierre, Louise Chevillotte, and Nicolas Gaspar.
Following the critical and commercial success of Verhoeven’s previous film Elle (2016), he went on to develop several projects including one about Jesus based on his own book Jesus of Nazareth, the second project about the French Resistance, and the third one scripted by Jean-Claude Carrière, a medieval story set in a monastery. In April 2017, producer Saïd Ben Saïd revealed that the third had been the one chosen as Verhoeven’s next project.
The film, then titled Blessed Virgin marked the producer and the director’s second collaboration after Elle. Gerard Soeteman, who has previously worked with Verhoeven on eight previous films including Turkish Delight (1973), The Fourth Man (1983), and Black Book (2006), replaced Carrière to adapt the non-fiction book Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy which was published in 1986 and written by historian Judith C. Brown. Soeteman decided to distance himself from being involved with the project so much that he eventually decided to have his name removed from the credits. Reasons being that he felt too much of the story was focused on sexuality.
Judith C. Brown stated that, “Paul Verhoeven and David Birke have written an imaginative and spellbinding script that explores the intersection of religion, sexuality, and human ambition in an age of plague and faith.” Verhoeven then went on to clarify his intentions: “The Blessed Virgin must be deeply infused with a sense of the sacred. I have always been interested in the sacred ever since I was a child, both generally and more specifically in music and paintings.”
On April 3, 2018, Lambert Wilson told French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that he has a role in the film. On May 1, 2018, Deadline Hollywood revealed that Charlotte Rampling entered negotiations to play a key supporting role. On May 4, 2018, Verhoeven announced that the film was re-titled to “Benedetta.” Although Verhoeven had hoped to convince Isabelle Huppert to play a supporting role in the film, producer Saïd Ben Saïd stated on May 31, 2018, that Huppert would not be joining the project. Ben Saïd also confirmed that Louise Chevillotte, Olivier Rabourdin, Clotilde Courau, and Hervé Pierre had all been officially cast in the film.
Principal photography began on 19 July 2018 in Montepulciano, Italy. Other main locations include Val d’Orcia and Bevagna, both located in Italy, as well as the Silvacane Abbey and Le Thoronet Abbey, in France. Production was followed by a strong campaign of secrecy and no one, unless working on the film, were allowed on to the set. Producer Saïd Ben Saïd admitted that the story was a “subject to controversy” and feared reactions from fundamentalist Catholic associations.
On 16 February 2018, The Hollywood Reporter announced Pathé would be producing and distributing the film in France and would also be handling the international sales. On 29 August 2018, Pathé and SBS Productions released a first look image of the film. Although it was initially reported that the film would premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Pathé announced on January 14, 2019 that the release had been postponed until 2020.
Pathe stated the reason that post-production had been delayed was due to Verhoeven needing time to recover from hip surgery. However, the release was delayed yet again to 2021, following the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the Cannes Film Festival where the film was set to premiere. This most recent cancellation was due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 10, 2020, Cannes director Thierry Fremaux confirmed the film’s selection and stated that, “Paul Verhoeven delivers an erotic and mischievous, also political, vision of the Middle Ages in a grandiose production. On June 3 2020, Fremaux confirmed that the film is scheduled to premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival in competition for the Palme d’Or. On May 5 2021, Pathé unveiled the first trailer and final theatrical release poster.