Director Paul Verhoeven’s film Benedetta, which tells the true story of a 17th century nun who joins an Italian convents and has a sexual relationship with another nun, has prompted protests at its New York Film Festival premiere.

Protesters from the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property have called the film “blasphemous”, demonstrating with megaphones and signs outside the festival venue. One less-than-pithy banner read “We vehemently protest the blasphemous lesbian movie Bendetta, that insults the sanctity of Catholic nuns.”

Christian Blauvelt, managing editor of IndieWire, observed, “They are upset about its ‘blasphemous’ portrayal of nuns and Catholicism. They’re repeatedly saying Hail Marys into megaphones.”

This is not the first time that Benedetta has sparked protests, forcing director Verhoeven to defend the film’s graphic sex scenes, one of which depicts and effigy of the Virgin Mary being used as a sex toy. He said, “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.”

He continued, “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.”

Watch the Benedetta trailer here:

Verhoeven’s approach to on-screen sex has courted controversy in the past, including from Sharon Stone, the star of the 90s erotic thriller Basic Instinct, which Verhoeven also directed. In her autobiography, The Beauty of Living Twice, Ms Stone alleges that Verhoeven duped her into removing her underwear for the now infamous police station scene, claiming that her knickers were reflecting light back into the camera but promising that no nudity would be shown on screen.

Verhoeven has vehemently denied Ms Stone’s allegations, telling Variety, “My memory is radically different from Sharon’s memory.”

Benedetta is released in the UK on 25th March 2022 and in the U.S. on 3rd December 2021.

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