Elle helmer Paul Verhoeven is set to reteam with producer Saïd Ben Saïd on their second collaboration, Blessed Virgin. The film will be shot in French (under the title Sainte Vierge) and will star Virginie Efira who played the devoutly Catholic Rebecca in Elle. Here, she’ll take on the role of Sister Benedetta Carlini, a 17th century nun who was hailed as a visionary but later accused of fabricated miracles, homosexuality and other charges, and imprisoned for 35 years.
The film is based on the book Immodest Acts: The Life Of A Lesbian Nun In Renaissance Italy which was published in 1986 and written by historian Judith C Brown. Gerard Soeteman, who previously co-wrote Verhoeven’s Black Book, is penning the adaptation. Shooting is set to begin soon.
Ben Saïd made the announcement on Twitter:
The story, which mixes religion with erotica and controversy, fits right into Verhoeven’s wheelhouse. Brown based it on papers she discovered in the state archives of Florence, according to a New York Times review when the book was published. Carlini entered the convent at the age of nine and at 23 began to have religious and erotic visions. She became Abbess of the Convent of the Mother of God, but later aroused suspicions by claiming to have had supernatural contact with Christ.
The documents Brown uncovered consisted mostly of transcripts of a series of inquests from 1619 and 1623 to determine whether Carlini was a true divine visionary or the victim of a diabolical obsession, per the Oxford University Press. She was charged with such offenses as fraudulent miracles, a wedding ceremony with Christ, and carrying on an erotic love affair with another nun. She was sentenced to the convent’s prison, where she died 35 years later.
Efira is a Belgian actress who starred in Justine Triet’s 2016 Victoria which debuted in Cannes’ Critics’ Week (Elle was in the main competition last year). She was nominated for a Best Actress César for Victoria; Isabelle Huppert ended up taking the prize for Elle.
While Elle was snubbed in the Best Foreign Language Film category at last year’s Oscars — failing to make the shortlist — Huppert was nominated as Best Actress and the film re-invigorated Verhoeven’s long and storied career. This will be his second time working in French, something he’s previously told me he was keen to do, even though the first time literally gave him headaches. It was a “big mountain” to conquer his fears, he told me late last year, but it opened “a new way of expressing” himself. Elle won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
Ben Saïd’s SBS International will kick off sales on Blessed Virgin in Cannes.