The New York Film Festival premiere of the upcoming Paul Verhoeven film Benedetta has been picketed by Catholic protesters.
The film, which follows a novice nun in the 17th century who joins an Italian convent and has a love affair with another nun, debuted at the Cannes Film Festival a few months ago.
Premiering at NYFF yesterday (September 26), protesters that appeared to be from the group American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, labelled Benedetta “blasphemous”.
“We vehemently protest the blasphemous lesbian movie Benedetta, that insults the sanctity of Catholic nuns,” one sign read, with many of those at the premiere sharing pictures from the protest on social media.
— 59th New York Film Festival (@TheNYFF) September 26, 2021
— Tomris Laffly (@TomiLaffly) September 26, 2021
According to IndieWire’s managing editor Christian Blauvelt: “They are upset about its ‘blasphemous’ portrayal of nuns and Catholicism. They’re repeatedly saying Hail Marys into megaphones”.
New York Film Festival programmer Dennis Lim later reportedly asked the audience inside “How many Catholics are with us?”, before a third of the audience raised their hands.
He then added: “Verhoeven doesn’t provoke without a purpose.”
Screenwriter David Birke was in attendance, though neither Verhoeven nor any of the film’s stars were present.
Verhoeven previously defended the film’s sex scenes, one of which depicts an effigy of the Virgin Mary being used as a sex toy.
“I don’t really understand how you can really blaspheme about something that happened, even in 1625,” he said. “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.”
Responding to a question on “hysteria” in regards to nudity, the director replied: “Don’t forget, in general, people, when they have sex, they take their clothes off. 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 director has previously been criticised for his approach to sex and nudity by actors who have worked with him, including Sharon Stone.
The actress said in her recent memoir The Beauty Of Living Twice that Verhoeven tricked her into shooting the scene in Basic Instinct without underwear by suggesting that her underwear was reflecting the light poorly, and asked Stone to remove them with the caveat that no frontal nudity would appear in the final film.
In response, Verhoeven told Variety: “My memory is radically different from Sharon’s memory.”