To wait before the screening of his event film in Cannes, the director confesses in Première.
Benedetta, screened on Friday July 9 at the Cannes Film Festival, is certainly one of the most anticipated films of the competition. It had to be shown by its director Paul Verhoeven from the 2020 edition, but the Covid-19 epidemic imposed its cancellation, and it is finally today that the filmmaker of Basic Instinct, Black Book and It will unveil this new portrait of a woman at the Palais des Festivals, surrounded by her team of talented actors (Virginie Efira, Charlotte Rampling, Daphné Patakia, Lambert Wilson …). To wait until this event screening, here is an excerpt from his interview published in the special Cannes festival pages of the new issue of Première. He also discusses at length the scandal surrounding the cult scene of Sharon Stone’s crossing of legs in Basic Instinct, the creation of Black Book or more generally the writing of his screenplays, but we are taking up here only his remarks on Benedetta.
Benedetta: Paul Verhoeven organizes a pleasurable chaos [critique]
FIRST: You like to repeat that three things rule the world sex, religion and violence … This is also the program of your cinema.
PAUL VERHOEVEN: The universe around us is clearly violent. Destruction is everywhere, to the depths of the galaxy governed by the explosion of matter … On our small scale, we humans function like stars which telescoping. Humanity has proven throughout the twentieth century and at the start of the new millennium its ability to self-destruct. Religion allows many to accept this chaos. It is difficult to admit that at the end of your life, you have to say goodbye to your loved ones but also to yourself, to this brain that is now out of service. Marx said that ” the religion is the opium of the people ”. It is there, around us. In the United States, people take it very seriously. As to in Renaissance Italy. ” The sulphurous character becomes an advertising argument. The physical attraction between Benedetta and Bartolomea, the young girl who joined the convent, allowed me to tell a very strong physical relationship in a context where the religious world – and therefore political – made her outlaw. Benedetta also falls in love with Jesus, meets him and attains a sort of mysterious power. I could then touch the secret of faith in the most direct sense of the word. Benedetta has her own perception of Christ. I visually impose it on the viewer.
As often in your films, it is the female character who takes in charge of the narrative and must assume until the end of his choices. Benedetta maybe a little more than the others, with men mostly remaining on the outskirts.
Yes, even if it does not respond to a fashion or a political gesture like #MeToo. My last three films, Black Book, She and this one has, in fact, a woman as the main character. That must mean something. But what ? All I can tell you about that is that I have respected what is in Judith C. Brown’s book. However, the very idea of a homosexual relationship between two women in Renaissance Italy is sufficiently singular in itself that I want to tell this story. At that time, the man was considered superior to the woman. Saint Augustine wrote something like: “The superiority of man over women is comparable to superiority of the soul on the body. ” With the story of Benedetta and her subsequent trial, we come to an absolute prohibition: the desire of one woman for another. The soul, according to the philosophy of the time, is absent from the equation. It is the height of heresy. Benedetta, like all my films, is guided by my immense respect for women in general. From my earliest childhood, I have been surrounded by women all the time, even the public school I attended in the Netherlands was co-educational. There has never been much of a difference in my approach to male and female characters in my films. If my heroines are strong and take responsibility for their responsibilities alone, that’s natural for me …
Virginie Efira – Benedetta: “I was ready to follow Paul Verhoeven with my eyes closed”
Isabelle Huppert in It or Virginie Efira in Benedetta are in phase total with the tone of the film. Denise Richards in Starship Troopers or Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls, on the contrary, are more frontal …
The choice of your performers determines the direction you will give your film. When I direct Denise in Starship Troopers, I ask him to always display a broad smile. His character is embarked on a struggle to annihilate invaders. She doesn’t question the dominant discourse that pushes her to kill without thinking. He’s a perfect little soldier. Was Denise aware while playing that through her character I was criticizing American society? I am not sure. Still, it works. I never embarrass my performers with big theories about their character. Denise might not have been so fair if we had brought up the underlying irony of the script. Elizabeth, she had not at all perceived the hyperbolic character of Showgirls. It was at the exit that she took the critics in the face. No one – at least in the United States – had understood the film’s willful exaggeration. It’s a bit sad, because Elizabeth’s career has suffered. With Starship Troopers, I passed for a neo-Nazi, with Showgirls, for a lewd. Total incomprehension.
Do you fear that a movie like Benedetta is badly perceived?
Of course, but doing it in France protects me from moral censorship such as exists in the United States. Remember thatIt was originally supposed to be done in Hollywood, but no one there understood why the heroine ultimately decided not to take revenge on her rapist. What to say to that ? Isabelle [Huppert] immediately understood the nature of the project. This consciousness is found on the screen and gives all the strength to the whole. Ditto with Virginie, she takes charge of her character in all its complexity and restores it to the screen.
Do you see yourself as a feminist filmmaker?
I’m not sure what that means. What I do know is that my characters, regardless of their gender, stand up against collapsing worlds.
Summary of Premiere n ° 520: Fast & Furious 9, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kelly Reichardt, Paul Verhoeven, Cannes 2021 …