Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s “lesbian nuns movie” Benedetta may have taken two more years to land (Verhoeven’s hip surgery in 2019 prevented him from completing post-production in time for Cannes that year), but his prologue wastes no time in informing the audience of his mischievous timbre (for the hilt that would expect something close to reverence), slipping into jesters farting in flames and a bird (apparently possessed by the Virgin Mary) dropping a poop into it eye of a bandit at the request of our young heroine. Adapted from the 1986 book by Judith C. Brown Shameless acts: the life of a lesbian nun in Renaissance Italy, the film also details the case of the 17th century Catholic mystic, Sister Benedetta Carlini, imprisoned for having sex with one of her nuns. I haven’t read Brown’s source material, but I’m sure it doesn’t come close to the camp show Verhoeven put together here. Digital snakes, Jesus as a burning and deadly knight, and the already renowned wooden dildo carved from the bottom of a statuette of the Virgin Mary lend lightness to provocations (though Verhoeven doubtfully denies any intention of using his films to provoke), which makes it a crazy moment.
Getting out of (relatively) prestige-y It, Verhoeven emphasizes her ongoing concerns about spirituality and the ways in which the desire and action of women is portrayed in cinema. (“Your worst enemy is your body, so you better not feel at home there.”) The queering image of the nun is nothing new; Jesús Franco, Norifumi Suzuki and Jacques Rivette arrived here about fifty years ago—The nun (1966) remains my favorite Rivette – but Verhoeven’s exploitation brand is perhaps the closest to the lines of taste class segregation, to the Puritan divide between the A and B categories of the media that have guided us towards this. that we can take seriously. Benedetta gleefully subverts tropes and stereotypes about cinema nuns as portrayed in religious art and essay, and if I hesitate to place it in the upper levels of Verhoeven’s filmography, it is because I have never been able to fully relax as a single investigative space; the pictures and words often look like a list of moments, elaborate ideas for spitting at a way of doing things. Or it’s the negative space of every video I was shown in Sunday School, all the imaginations these lessons desperately wanted to bring out. This is what I wanted him to be, what I wanted him to look like – pleasantly devilish. I think I prefer Verhoeven when I’m tempted to slap him, not when I want to give him a high five.
In an entirely register, Panah Panahi (indeed, son of Jafar / co-editor of the 2018 daddy drama 3 faces) unveiled his first feature film Take the road at the Directors’ Fortnight today, and the film should be one of the big surprises of this year’s edition. The film exhibits many of the same characteristics that have populated the last thirty years of Iranian cinema – driving, family breakdown, state oppression – as a young man (Amin Simiar) leads his hyper-child brother (Rayan Sarlak) , distressed mother (Pantea Panahiha), invalid father (Hassan Madjooni) and the family’s terminally ill dog, Jessie, through pistachio-stained mountains to the Iranian border with Turkey. The motives for this hike are cryptically hidden (a strategy conveniently justified in the narrative by the need to leave the cowardly little brother in the dark), but the ominous agenda culminates in the driver’s ominous expression as well as the drivers. repeated statements from the family of “in extremis” (much to the chagrin of the non-Latin youth), lending the otherwise vibrant family dynamics a palpable sense of apprehension.
Panahi’s directing effectively cuts the gravity of the film, and Take the road ends up being quite singular compared to the usual offerings of its national cinema. For one thing, he’s not shy about including surreal touches, including a hand-drawn piano on the father’s cast that allows the youngest son to play the film’s non-diegetic music, and an observational interlude. stars in the final act of the film which sees a grassy hill transform into a bottomless galaxy of stars – a gesture that, with a drone shot that zooms in on the desert floor, effectively summons 2001: A Space OdysseyThe Stargate finale, a sequence clearly mentioned in an early conversation between the mother and her eldest son. (Tati is another late period master whose influence shows up on more than one occasion, including a clever visual gag involving a dog strapped to a red chair.) The jokes between everyone at the screens are crisp and precise to always be both angry and affectionate. An unfortunate plot takes the film down a few notches in its second half, which is a shame as Panahi seems naturally good at creating images that don’t need verbal context. A scene of the father character discussing the subconscious, and how Azari’s extinct Iranian language was superior to expressing it than Farsi, suggests that this is an area Panahi is actively grappling with.