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Virginie Efira is to French audiences what Meg Ryan was to American ones in the 90s: their National Sweetheart and Queen of the RomComs. So I was truly surprised when her name appeared before the title of Paul Verhoeven’s gloriously fruity, over-the-top, and blatantly provocative new lesbian nun epic Benedetta. This would kind of be, perhaps, like Ryan taking the title role in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Parts 1 and 2.
As it turns out, not quite: Von Trier and Verhoeven are both provocateurs, but they provoke in different ways, the main one being that Verhoeven is always taking the piss, satirising something, where Von Trier can be very serious. But the casting of Efira is still a subversive move, in a film, and filmography, defined utterly by subversion.
For a start, Efira is in her 40s, and Benedetta, the nun she plays, is in her twenties. This is Verhoeven, who is in his 80s, operating with complete impunity: to him, what difference does a couple of decades make? Benedetta is young and beautiful, and so is Efira, right? Who cares about age anyway? If you’re gonna nitpick about that, he may be saying, then there are almost certainly a few other issues you’re going to have with my movie.
And people will have issues: this is profane, flammable stuff. Or not; I couldn’t worry less about one young nun making a dildo for another out of a Virgin Mary statuette. Your experience may vary. If it doesn’t piss you off, though, Benedetta may seriously entertain you. It’s wild, over-the-top, hysterical (in all meanings of the word), and you simply can’t look away. You know what? They just tend not to make ‘em like this anymore; thank goodness Verhoeven does.
DRIVE MY CAR
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There’s big Awards talk for Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s three-hour humanistic drama about a grieving theatre director mounting a production of Uncle Vanya at a theatre festival in modern-day Hiroshima, and rightly so. It’s a beautifully crafted, moving, elegant and at times drily funny tale, superbly acted. Don’t let the runtime intimidate you; settle in and enjoy the drive.