Aged 83, Paul Verhoeven debuted his long-awaited follow-up to 2016’s Elle for US audiences at this year’s New York Film Festival, and proved that he’s not lost his ability to cause controversy with age.
Titled Benedetta, the “erotic lesbian nun horror” was (somewhat predictably) picketed by Catholic protesters at the September 26 premiere. In imagery shared from the New York Film Festival’s official Twitter account, members of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) are shown holding banners denouncing the film as “blasphemous”.
“We vehemently protest the blasphemous lesbian movie Benedetta, that insults the sanctity of Catholic nuns,” reads one of the banners, displayed by demonstrators outside NYC’s Alice Tully Hall.
“Why the endless insults to Jesus?” asks another, while a third urges cinemagoers: “Stop blasphemy now!”
Of course, many NYFF attendees have pointed out that the protest is essentially free advertising for the filmmaker, whose tendency toward transgressive subjects is hardly a secret. Others commenting on social media have suggested it’s a good example of the Streisand effect, or could even be the work of paid actors drumming up publicity.
This isn’t the first time that Verhoeven’s Benedetta has come under fire, either. The film — which revolves around the titular nun played by Virginie Efira, who has an affair with another nun in a 17th century Italian convent — was called out earlier this year for a scene that shows a statue of the Virgin Mary being used as a sex toy.
Responding to previous claims of blasphemy, the Basic Instinct and Showgirls director told reporters at Cannes, where the film premiered: “I don’t understand really how you can be blasphemous about something that happened. Even if it’s in 1625, it’s true, mostly. Of course, we changed a little bit.”
”You cannot talk about blasphemy about something that happened 4,500 years ago. I think that’s wrong. So I think the word blasphemy, in this case, is stupid.”