Notes on Camp. Benedetta vs The Devils.


Showgirls Redux.

Paul Verhoeven’s “Benedetta” takes both the SHOW and the GIRLS from his 1995 Hollywood career-ending movie “Showgirls” and plants them in the body of noted historical figure Abbess Benedetta Carlini (Virginie Efira). Carlini was denounced because of her relationship with a fellow nun in 17-century counter-reformation Italy, a time when the Catholic Church was reforming itself in the wake of the Protestant Reformation.

Benedetta vs The Devils

The Devils

Like Vanessa Redgrave’s physically deformed mother superior in Ken Russell’s “The Devils”, from 1971, the titular heroine has erotic visions of Jesus that come to her at intervals throughout the movie. However, the Russell comparisons end there.

Benedetta vs The Devils

The importance of camp

“The Devils” was, and is, Russell’s most outrageous and idiosyncratic film. In gloriously bad taste, it still noted for its historically accurate yet dream-like production design by Derek Jarman (before he became a film director) and its dazzling white-on-white cinematography (by Michael Watkin). It is also deliciously camp and seeing it the context of Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay for the Partisan Review, Notes on “Camp”, is always fun and informative.

Benedetta vs The Devils

Sontag’s essay: an excerpt.

You thought it (camp) meant a swishy little boy with peroxided hair, dressed in a picture hat and a feather boa, pretending to be Marlene Dietrich? Yes, in queer circles they call that camping. … You can call [it] Low Camp 

High Camp is the whole emotional basis for ballet, for example, and of course of baroque art … High Camp always has an underlying seriousness. You cannot camp about something you do not take seriously. You are not making fun of it; you are making fun out of it. You are expressing what is serious to you in terms of fun, artifice, and elegance. Baroque art is camp about religion. The ballet is camp about love..

Benedetta vs The Devils

Rampling and the Smart Funny Moment.

“Benedetta”, in some scenes, seems to be stiving for, but never attains, the knowingness required to meet Sontag’s criteria. In the end, it’s just another example of Verhoeven’s innate cinematic vulgarity. Virginie Efira does her best as Benedetta, both in and out of her habit (and there is an emphasis on out). I hope that we get to see her in a better movie someday, a movie worthy of her talents. As her anti-Semitic mother superior, Charlotte Rampling has the occasional smart and funny moment. Overall, however, “Benedetta” is a disappointment.



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