As the Cannes Film Festival continued over the weekend, director Paul Verhoeven found himself making a case for the sexual nature of his newest film, the violent and erotic Benedetta. According to Variety, the Dutch director became increasingly defensive over the racy sex scenes in Benedetta throughout the Cannes press conference, citing “puritanism” as the real issue at hand.
“Don’t forget, in general, people, when they have sex, they take their clothes off,” he says. “So I’m stunned basically by the fact that we don’t want to look at the reality of life. Why this puritanism has been introduced—it is in my opinion wrong.”
The Showgirls director tends to focus on the obscene, and Benedetta is no different. The story, based on the real life events laid out in Judith C. Brown’s novel, focuses on a lesbian relationship between two nuns in a convent in 16th century Italy. One of the scenes that seemed to shock critics involves one of the women using a Virgin Mary effigy as a sex toy.
“I don’t really understand how you can really blaspheme about something that happened, even in 1625,” Verhoeven says. “You cannot change history, you cannot change things that happened, and I based it on the things that happened. So I think the word blasphemy in this case is stupid.”
The film has received generally positive reviews, with a five minute standing ovation following its premiere at Cannes. One of the only areas it’s been dinged is its abundance of sex scenes. In 2018, Verhoeven’s longtime screenwriting collaborator Gerard Soeteman, distanced himself from Benedetta, criticizing Verhoeven for omitting the political themes and focusing too much on sex.
When asked at Cannes about the use of an intimacy director, and if he would ever considered bringing one on his sets, Verhoeven replied, “[The actors] themselves were the intimacy coordinators. I felt it. Sometimes it might be necessary but for the time being I believe not in France.”
The use of intimacy coordinators on sets in Hollywood has been increasingly common, as these professionals help insure the comfortability and the wellness of actors during sex scenes.
Verhoeven has been in hot water for his unethical way of shooting nude actors, most infamously being Basic Instinct’s interrogation scene, where Sharon Stone says she was unaware her genitals would be shown in the final cut of the film. In a recent interview with Variety, Verhoeven denies Stone’s claims, saying, “My memory is radically different from Sharon’s memory.”
In her memoir released earlier this year, Stone discusses the scene, and rightfully asserts, “There have been many points of view on this topic, but since I’m the one with the vagina in question, let me say: The other points of view are bullshit.”
Benedetta will be released in the U.S. through IFC Films.