Organized religion. Films reviewed: Hand of God, Agnes, Benedetta

Posted in 1600s, 1980s, Breasts, Catholicism, Coming of Age, Horror, Italy, Lesbian, LGBT, Nun, Religion, Sex, Supernatural, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 4, 2021

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s December and we’re entering holiday season, so I thought it’s time to talk about movies involving religion. So this week I’m looking at three new movies with (small c) catholic themes. There’s an adolescent boy in 1980s Naples who witnesses the “Hand of God”, a lesbian nun in renaissance Tuscany who is in love with God, and another nun in the US who may be possessed by the Devil.

Benedetta

Co-Wri/Dir: Paul Verhoeven

It’s the 1600s in Tuscany Italy. Benedetta (Virginie Efira) is a beautiful young  nun with blond hair and a quick wit. She was placed in small town convent as a young girl, paid for by a rich dowry her parents gave the Abbess (Charlotte Rampling). Now Benedetta is married to God, both metaphorically, and literally, in her mind. She goes through vivid spells, where she has sex with a violent Jesus after he slays all her attackers with a sword. She also has a streak of cruelty since she was told that suffering, by oneself and others,  brings one closer to God. The cynical Abbess thinks Benedetta’s trances are just an elaborate hoax. But everything changes when Bartolomea (Daphné Patakia) a gorgeous young novice, appears at their doorstep. 

She is illiterate, and the victim of horrific abuses from her father and brothers. Benedetta takes her under her wing, nurtures her and schools her in divinity, reading and math. In exchange, Bartolomea sleeps with her, awakening hidden desires. Could this be love? Benadetta says she’s having chaste, spiritual sex with Jesus himself, not carnal passion with the young novice. And her spontaneous stigmata — bleeding that appears in her hands and feet like Jesus on the cross — attracts pilgrims and followers from far and wide seeking advice and cures. But when she’s caught using a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary as a sex toy, things take a turn for the worse. A cruel Nuncio (Lambert Wilson) arrives from plague-ridden Florence for an inquisition. Will he manage to wring a confession from the two women? Or will Benedetta’s spiritual powers protect her from being burned at the stake?

Benedetta (based on  actual historical records)  is a bittersweet and passionate look at the life and love of a lesbian nun in Northern Italy. It’s sexually explicit with lots of matter-of-fact nudity throughout the film as well as some horrific violence  (remember, this is a movie by the great Paul Verhoeven who knows well how to keep bums in seats). This is a visually stunning film, with sumptuous views of sunlit cathedrals, long-flowing costumes, diaphanous bed curtains and beautiful faces and bodies. Never has a convent looked so erotic. But it’s also a fascinating look at faith in the face of cynical religious practices. Benedetta is a beautiful and shocking film.

Agnes

Wri/Dir: Mickey Reece

Sister Agnes (Hayley McFarland) is a young nun in a convent whose birthday celebration turns into a disaster. Now he’s tied to her bed, foaming at the mouth and speaking in strange otherworldly voices. What is going on?Enter Father Donoghue (Ben Hall). He’s a grizzled priest with a shady past, but also many successful exorcisms under his belt.  And he takes a newby with him, the devout Benjamin (Jake Horowitz) a divinity student who has yet to take his vows. Father Donoghue doesn’t believe that they’re actually possessed, just that they think they are. And only the elaborate song and dance of an exorcism will allow them to give it up. At the convent, Mother Superior (Mary Buss) a stickler for rules, is much less enthusiastic. She’s not comfortable with men under her roof, especially a young one without a priest’s collar. But she allows it to proceed. And the routine exorcism takes an unexpected turn.

The story picks up with Sister Agnes’s friend Sister Mary (Molly C. Quinn). She left the convent after the incident. Now she works at two jobs — a convenience store and a laundromat, —and is trying to live a normal life. But she doesn’t know what to do or how to act. Can she keep the faith? Matters aren’t helped when she meets a cynical stand up comic at a local dive bar (Sean Gunn). Can he teach her what she needs to know?

Agnes is a look at faith, and self-doubt within the church. It starts as a genre pic, a conventional, low-budget horror, but it ends up as a deeper and darker melodrama propelled by scary undertones. It’s called Agnes, but it’s actually in two acts, the second part mainly about Sister Mary. It’s unpredictable and uncomfortable, and sometimes a bit bloody. This may be the first Mickey Reece film I’ve ever watched but I can see why this indie filmmaker has such an avid following. The film has an interesting mix of experimental film and conventional, even kitschy, horror, comparable to avant-garde filmmakers like Ben Wheatley and Peter Strickland. Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it — and I think want to see more Mickey Reece.

Hand of God 

Dir: Paolo Sorrentino

It’s 1984. Fabietto (Filippo Scotti) is a young man at Don Bosco high school in Naples, Italy. He is precocious and well-read, — constantly quoting classic verse — but has neither friends nor sexual experience. He gets most of his advice from his big brother (who shares a room with him) and his parents. Dad (Toni Servillo) is a self-declared communist while his mom (Teresa Saponangelo) is a inveterate practical joker. Then there are all the odd-ball neighbours in their apartment building (including a former countess) and his even stranger family members. But foremost in Fabio’s eyes is his aunt Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri). She suffers from delusions which cause her to innocently expose her flawless naked body at unusual times — which provide fodder for the sexually-starved Fabio’s fantasies. 

It’s also the year when rumour has it that international soccer star Maradona may start playing for the local team — an obsession of most of his family. Third on Fabietto’s list — after sex and football — are the movies. Fellini is casting extras in Napoli — he goes to the audition —  while another up-and-coming director is shooting his latest film downtown. That director is also dating the very actress Fabio is dying to meet. Will he ever fulfill any of his wishes? And how will this pivotal year affect the rest of his life?

Hand of God (the title refers to a legendary goal scored by Maradona) is a coming-of-age story based on the filmmaker’s own recollections. It seems like the straight version of the popular Call Me By Your Name, another Italian feature. Set in the 80s, it’s also about a precocious adolescent’s first sexual experiences, situated within a quirky but loving family. There’s lots of 80s music, fashion and hairstyles to look at. Filippo Scotti also happens to looks a hell of a lot like Timothée Chalamet. That said, it is its own film, and fits very firmly within Sorentino’s work, including his fascination with celebrities as characters,

perennial actors like the great Toni Servillo  hapless men, as well as the requisite “naked woman with perfect breasts” who manages to turn up, in one form or another, in all his movies. Although Hand of God isn’t that original, and a bit contrived, it does have some very funny and a few honestly shocking scenes that should not be missed. I liked this one.

Hand of God and Benedetta both open theatrically in Toronto this weekend at the TIFF Bell Lightbox; check your local listings; and Agnes starts next Friday at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Saturday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Daniel Garber talks with Paul Verhoeven about Elle at #TIFF16

Posted in France, Interview, Movies, Psychological Thriller, Sex, SMBD, violence by CulturalMining.com on November 18, 2016

paul-verhoeven-tiff16-photo-by-jeff-harrisHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM

Elle is a hardboiled businesswoman in Paris who co-owns a video game development company. Divorced with a grown son, she’s as ruthless in the boardroom as she is in the bedroom. But her normal life is shattered paul-verhoeven-tiff16-photo-by-jeff-harris-2when she is violently raped in her own home by a man with a black balaclava covering his face. Instead of telling the police, she takes the matter into her own hands, and vows to track 0194cad2-a0cb-4884-92a0-fb2ce23ec3e6down her attacker and get revenge. But even as Elle stalks him, he threatens further attacks on her in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Elle is the latest from filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, known for his playful movies filled with sex, violence, intrigue and war. From his Dutch greats like Soldier of Orange, the Fourth Man and (a personal favourite) Black Book, to his over-the-top Hollywood classics Robocop, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls… they all share his inimitable style.

I spoke with Paul Verhoeven at TIFF in September. Elle opens today in Toronto.

Photos of Paul Verhoeven by Jeff Harris

Flesh + Blood. The Dutch films of Paul Verhoeven: Turkish Delight, Soldier of Orange, Spetters, The Fourth Man

Posted in Cultural Mining, Movies, Netherlands, Psychological Thriller, Sex, Uncategorized, violence, WWII by CulturalMining.com on January 30, 2014

fourthman_02Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Paul Verhoeven. You’ve probably seen some of his Hollywood movies — Robocop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, Showgirls. He’s known for his shocking nudity, brutal sex and stylized violence. Popular movies, but unpopular with most critics. They saw him as a misogynist, a schlockmeister and a fascist. None of this is true. He’s actually a great director.

The critical tide seems to be turning. His films are now being revisited in a TIFF Netherlandsretrospective. This week, I’m looking at the less-well-known, but fantastic films he made in the Netherlands in the 1970’s and 80s before going to Hollywood.

In some ways Verhoeven’s early films were totally Hollywood. His men (Rutger Hauer, Jeroen Krabbe) are lantern-jawed and lusty; his women (Renee Soutendijk, Monique Van den Ven) are petite beauties… and as independent and blatantly sexual as the men. His movies are filled with full frontal nudity (both male and female) explicit sex, and brutal violence, often with a queer twist. And a constant undercurrent of anti-authoritarianism.

They explore the postwar world of the baby boom and its sexual revolution in the glory days between the pill and AIDS.

Rutger Hauer Turkish DelightTurkish Delight (1973)

Erik (Rutger Hauer) is a sculptor in a small city. He has long blond hair and aviator sunglasses. He’s the kind of guy who takes whatever he wants – an old lady’s fur coat, a stranger’s ice cream cone. This applies to women as well – he’s a champion pick-up artist.

But he bristles at the old guard – the uptight shopkeepers and burgermeisters– and despises their hypocrisy. Erik’s sculpture of Lazarus (the biblical character who comes back to life), gets him in trouble – the town fathers don’t like the worms and maggots eating Lazarus’s flesh. But Erik revels in them.

Verhoeven also piles on the shocks. The decay and rot of old ideas are turkish_delight_02everywhere: clean, orderly Netherlands is shown as a country full of worms, feces, garbage and vomit. Old people have cancer and dementia; their sex is furtive and hidden. Erik wants sex to be free, open and everywhere.

So he heads off to Amsterdam, but is picked up by a beautiful young woman, Olga (Monique Van de Ven) on the way. Olga is voluptuous and impetuous; they leap into bed in bloodsoaked sexual abandon. But is their marriage a flash in the pan or everlasting love? Olga is the woman of Eric’s dreams… but she’s still young. She grows bored with him and the constant sex. Can he  ever get her back?

Turkish Delight is a delightful sex comedy.

soldieroforange_01Soldier of Orange (1977)

Leiden University in 1938. War is looming, but the upper-class frat boys are more concerned with hazing, songs, tennis and drinking. They’re apolitical toffs who swear loyalty for life. Erik and Guus (Rutger Hauer and Jeroen Krabbe) become fast friends. But then, the Germans invade, Queen Willhemina flees to Britain, and the Netherlands is under Nazi occupation. Suddenly everything changes. Friends fight friends.

Some – like one student whose mother is German —  drift toward Nazi collaboration; others join the Resistance. They send out furtive messages to London by wireless, but the Germans – riding on bicycles with detectors around their necks – uncover the operation. They arrest most of the conspirators and use them to unwittingly spread false rumours. Some remain loyal till death, other’s crack under torture and switch sides. A few dozen men escape, including Erik and Guus. They climb onto a Swiss ship and make it to London. There, in the name of the Queen, they operate air raids and launch undercover missions. Based on a true story, this epic is a fantastic, wartime look at the few and the brave.

spetters_eyefilm_02_mediumSpetters (1980)

Three best friends in their twenties, one redhead, one dark and one blond.  Rien,  Eef and Hans (Hans van Tongeren, Toon Agterberg, Marten Spanjer) work together at a mechanic shop: Rien drives a dirt bike and Eef can take one apart and put it back together… blindfolded! They love to race and ride at local events and they all idolize the the champ — their hero Gerrit (Rutger Hauer).

They all end up crushing on the same  carney Fientje (Renee Soutendijk) who runs a fry and croquette truck with her brother. Fientje is older and tougher than the boys. She has curly blonde hair but is no pushover – she’s ambitious. She’s quick with her pot of boiling oil against any guy trying to steal from the chip wagon. The spetters_eyefilm_01_mediumthree guys decide the best endowed will get to date her – but she has other ideas; she chooses the redhead Rien – the only one with a girlfriend. She gets him a sponsor and an expensive bike; she hopes her star will rise with his. (But will he make it as a champion?)

Next comes the dark-haired Eef, a farmers son with a homophobic streak: he bashes gays and steals their money. He uses the cash to buy one-way tickets to Canada for Fientje and himself so he can escape his abusive home… but is he sexually compatible with her?

The blond, Hans, is the third in line, with nothing to recommend him. He too wants to be the next champ but faces a cynical, exploitative world… can he win her heart? 

Spetters is a great coming-of-age story about where fate takes one woman… and the three young men who want her.

fourthman_01The Fourth Man (1983)

A Psychological Thriller.

Gerard (Jeroen Krabbe) is a novelist in Amsterdam with a vivid imagination. He likes to “lie the truth”. He sees signs, symbols and omens everywhere: the number four, the virgin Mary, a detached eyeball. He’s Catholic – but more into the spooky gothic icons than the sinning and repenting. He’s also a red-blooded gay man. So when he spots a young guy at a newsstand near the train station he is in love. (Well, in lust). He chases him but misses the train.

Soon, he finds himself in a small town doing a book reading. Christine (Renee Soutendijk), a stunning blonde widow in a red dress, 1940s-style is filming him in super-8. They end up in bed, but he fourthman_03awakens from a bizarre castration nightmare involving Christine and a pair of scissors. (She owns a beauty salon called Sphinx.)

Going through her letters when she’s out of the room, Gerard discovers a photo of her boyfriend Herman (Thom Hoffman). It’s the same man he saw at the train station! So he fakes a psychic vision and convinces her to invite her macho and jealous lover to come stay with her. He aims to seduce Herman. But he discovers that MBDFOMA EC004Christine has a secret history of her own. Will this sexual triangle end in love… or death?

I recommend all four of these films. Turkish Delight, Soldier of Orange,  Spetters and The Fourth Man are all part of Flesh + Blood, the Paul Verhoeven Retrospective at the TIFF Bell Lightbox now through April. Go to tiff.net for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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