Benedetta is a film that has been praised by critics for being’sexy’,’satirical’ and’spiritual’. 

The film, directed by provocative film maker Paul Verhoeven, tells the story of Sister Benedetta Carlini (played by little-known Belgian actress Virginie Efira), a 17th century Italian nun who has a forbidden lesbian affair with a novice named Bartolomea (Daphné Patakia), while claiming to have erotic visions of Jesus.   

The film made international headlines after its premiere at Cannes Film Festival. It was also met with protests at New York Film Festival.   

Benedetta, which opens in the US this week and is slated for an April 2022 release in the UK, contains scenes of sex, self-flagellation and ‘nun-on-nun kissing’, as one commentator put it. 

Benedetta is seen using a wood Virgin Mary figurine for sex in a particularly provocative scene.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Benedetta is its existence and that these events, or at least some of them, actually happened. 

Benedetta, directed by provocative film maker Paul Verhoeven, tells the story of Sister Benedetta Carlini (Virginie Efira, pictured), a 17th century Italian nun who has a lesbian affair with a novice, Bartolomea (Daphné Patakia), while claiming to have erotic visions of Jesus

Benedetta, directed by provocative film maker Paul Verhoeven, tells the story of Sister Benedetta Carlini (Virginie Efira, pictured), a 17th century Italian nun who has a lesbian affair with a novice, Bartolomea (Daphné Patakia), while claiming to have erotic visions of Jesus

The film, which premieres in the US this week and is slated for a UK release in 2022, contains scenes of sex, self-flagellation and 'nun-on-nun kissing', pictured, as one commentator put it

Film premiered in America this week. It is scheduled for release in the UK in 2022. The movie contains scenes of self-flagellation, sexuality, and “nun-on–nun kissing,” as one commentator said.

What is perhaps most extraordinary is that Benedetta actually existed, and these events - or at least a version of them - actually took place. Above, painting of a 17th century nun

The most amazing thing is the fact that Benedetta existed and these events actually occurred. Above: painting depicting a nun from the 17th century.

Verhoeven based the film on Immodest Acts, The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by Professor Judith C. Brown (American historian and professor).  

Benedetta’s story had been a legend in Italy for generations. Prof Brown helped to give the story more credibility academically by uncovering documents from Florence’s state archives, which proved the truth of the tale.

Benedetta was born 1591. Her family, a middle-class Italian family of respectable means raised her. They were particularly attentive to her religious upbringing and educated her.

At five years old, Benedetta knew all the prayers and litanys of saints by heart. Benedetta was six years old when she learned Latin and read a bit.

Benedetta, then a small girl, was approached by a black dog who tried to pull her away. But she was terrified of her screaming. When her mother arrived, however, it was gone. It was the devil disguised in an animal, according to her family.

Also, she said that she was able to communicate well with nightingales. This is an indication of her carnal love.   

At the age of nine, Benedetta was admitted to The Convent of the Mother of God, Pescia (Tuscany). 

Renaissance Italy was at that time a country where middle class families ‘bought their daughters’ a spot in a convent. This cost was about quarter of the amount of a marriage-dowry, and it conferred respectability. 

From the moment Benedetta and Bartolomea meet in the convent, the sexual attraction is clear. In one provocative scene, they use a wooden Virgin Mary figurine as a sex toy

The sexual attraction between Bartolomea and Benedetta is evident from the moment they meet at the convent. One provocative scene shows them using a wooden Virgin Mary figurine to have sex.

Benedetta nearly fell into the hands of a Madonna statue while she was praying shortly after her arrival at the convent. The statue of the Madonna wanted to touch her, which she thought was miraculous. This sign was taken as evidence of God’s power by the young novice.

Her first years of the convent were not remarkable. The first time she reported on the visions was at age 23.     

She described visions that came to her including one where Jesus requested to marry her.

Some visions had more sexual and graphic content. In mock marriage ceremonies at the convent, she was able to’see’ Jesus and would speak in angelic voices.

Witnesses noticed that she was in a trance, where she seemed to have altered consciousness. Benedetta was not believed by others and they feared that she might be a fraud. 

She became a sensation with people flocking to see her and once showed stigmata on her hands –bleeding wounds similar to the ones the Bible says Christ suffered during the Crucifixion. She was 30 years old when she became an abbess in the convent.  

These disturbing statements caused so much concern among the nuns that they brought their concerns to Rome’s papal council. Sister Benedetta was then ordered to be kept in her own room. 

The film shows Benedetta experiencing erotic visions of a naked Jesus, who instructs her to remove her clothes. This apparent closeness to God elevates her above her fellow nuns and leads to the ousting of the convent's Abbess (Charlotte Rampling), pictured

Benedetta experiences erotic visions and is instructed to get out of her clothes by a naked Jesus. She is able to see God in her and this elevates her to the top of her nuns, leading to her expulsion from the convent.

She was supervised by Sister Bartolomea Cirivelli, a novice nun. The pair began a lesbian affair. Benedetta claimed that she had been possessed by a man demon, so the sin was not committed. 

Benedetta was the subject of two inquires. First, she was found to be truly blessed. Second discovered numerous inconsistencies within her stories and received testimony from other nuns to support it. 

According to Nuns, they described seeing Benedetta suffering the stigmata and that she was eating meat and cheese despite Christ’s warnings. 

Benedetta said that she had witnessed another nun put her blood on Christ’s statue and it started to bleed.

Bartolomea gave the most surprising testimony, detailing their relationship sexually. 

According to investigators, “This sister Benedetta then for two continuous year, minimum three times per week in the evening, after disrobing, going to bed, would wait for her companion, disrobe and call her pretending to be needing her.” 

Benedetta would reach out to Bartolomea and grab her by her arm, then throw her forcefully on the bed. She would embrace her and then kiss her. 

“And she would swirl on top of herself so much that they both corrupted each other. She held her by force, holding her for one, two and three hours. 

While some believe Benedetta's visions, others, including Rampling's character and the nuncio (Lambert Wilson), pictured, question her motives. Their suspicions lead to a trial that concludes with Benedetta losing her position

Some believe Benedetta’s visions. Others, such as Rampling and Lambert Wilson, are skeptical. They suspect Benedetta and lead to her losing her job.

“And Benedetta would inform her that she and Benedetta weren’t sinning, because it was Angel Splenditello that did such things. Splenditello had always spoken through Benedetta, and she was always speaking with that voice.  

Virginie Efira, a former TV presenter and actress from Belgium plays the role of Verhoeven in Verhoeven’s film. 

Daphne Patakia plays her lover, a Belgian actress who is still unknown. Due to their on-screen passion, both women will be stars.

This film presents a less clear portrait of Benedetta, and the events that took place in her convent.

Film depicts a 18-year old Benedetta having erotic visions. A naked Jesus instructs her to take off her clothes. 

She is able to show a closeness with God through her stigmata and this elevates herself above the other nuns. This leads to the expulsion of Charlotte Rampling, the Abbess at the convent.  

The sexual attraction between Bartolomea and Benedetta is evident from the first moment they meet at the convent. Bartolomea, however, seeks out the relationship.

‘She is, of course, very happy when Benedetta gains more and more power, even if she doesn’t really believe her [visions]Patakia said to the New York Times, ” 

‘But she doesn’t care, because what she wants she can get through Benedetta’s power, because they can have a room of their own and they can explore and experience whatever they want.

In the trailer, as the lead character enters, in habit and wimple, the nun 'slips', causing Benedetta to reach out, almost touching the novice's naked breast before recoiling

The trailer shows that the main character, dressed in habit and wimple enters the convent. Benedetta reaches out to touch the naked breast of the novice before recoiling.

‘They both want the power to do whatever they want, and I think that’s also what they share in common, but maybe it’s more clear for Bartolomea.’

Some believe Benedetta’s visions. Others, such as Rampling and Lambert Wilson, question her motives. Benedetta loses her position due to their suspicions.   

Similar fate was suffered by the true Benedetta.  

Papal authorities decided that her revelations were not the work of God but the Devil; it was a diabolical obsession. She was stripped of her rank, and placed in the convent’s “prison” for 35 more years until her death in 1661.