Benedetta is a movie that leaves you feeling a certain kind of way, something you can’t really put your finger on. It is a story of nuance, and its impact is felt not immediately, but over the days when bits and pieces of it surface up in your memory and make you think again.
Let’s start by understanding one thing- this biographical movie, which is set in a convent and involves a fairly religious woman, is not about faith or God. It is about the power plays of the establishment and how they pull in the protagonist, who is also a key orchestrator of them.
The movie begins with a young Benedetta and her family making their way to a convent where Benedetta is to be a nun. We see a child who is already devoted to the service of God and believes that she has a relationship with the Virgin Mary. She believes, with the faith that goes beyond that of an innocent child, that God is her protector. Benedetta also believes Virgin Mary to be her true mother who shields her from misfortune.
At this point, the viewers realize that they are watching this movie through a 21st-century lens. With a lot of what the characters do and say, there is an urge to look at it logically, which is required to an extent when understanding their motivations. And this is where the modern viewer can choose a path. One, watching the movie and interpreting it through modern psychology, or two, discarding that knowledge and taking the story as it literally is. Both these ways bring about their own brand of dread and are a look into the harsher realities of an older time.
Coming back to the story, we see a grown-up Benedetta who has visions of Christ where she is his wife, and they are in love, and she makes no secret of these. She openly tells her mother, and whoever asks her exactly what she sees and thinks. But things start changing when a young woman named Bartelomew enters her life.
Bartholomew has run away from home and come to the convent seeking shelter and protection, and her stay there was requested by Benedetta and funded by her parents. Once she is accepted into the convent, she is helped by Benedetta to settle in, and they instantly become friends. There is a moment here where Benedetta tells Bartelomew how beautiful she is and urges her to see that for herself in Benedetta’s eyes. The modern viewer knows this is one of the best flirting scenes seen in a movie in a while, but Benedetta thinks of it as ordinary conversation. Bartholomew, however, is more in touch with her feelings and does not hesitate to kiss Benedetta. The surprise kiss prompts Benedetta to pray to Jesus Christ for Bartelomew’s soul.
The next day, we see Bartholomew secretly feeling up Benedetta. We see this prompting in the latter feelings of being attacked by the Devil till Jesus ultimately comes to rescue her. The visions continue, and we see her struggling with her feelings and being tormented by them as she feels that they are taking her away from Jesus Christ, to who she considers herself married, which means that she thinks she is committing not just the sin of lust and sexual perversion but also that of adultery.
Things, however, take a turn in a particular dream, the dream that makes her accept her feelings. We believe that this particular dream can be interpreted in a few ways, and probably someone with a more religious context will have a different understanding of it. But to the layman, what we understand is that Benedetta realizes that Bartholomew was God’s way of bringing himself into her life as a partner and her feelings were never sinful but only natural and a reflection of his own intentions for her. This is honestly one of the rare, if not the only heart-warming moments in the movie, where the message is delivered that God is never against love, no matter who it is between. But of course, the dream is still open to interpretation.
What follows is Benedetta’s conviction that she is chosen by God and how this is used by people in the convent and the entire system of the Church for reasons of power and influence. At no point do we feel sympathy for Benedetta. This is not a character that’s asking for it, and she is also not helpless by any means. When it comes to Bartholomew, on the other hand, we see that the convent for her was not a way of life but an escape from lifelong abuse and that she just wanted a secure and comfortable future. It is easy to see that she loves Benedetta, even at the moment that she betrays her.
On the other hand, Benedetta does cherish her, but it is clear that she comes second to Jesus Christ and her own beliefs of being guided by him for the machinations she has set in play at the convent.
‘Benedetta’ Ending Explained
In the ending of the movie, we see that though Bartelomew and Benedetta reunited briefly, the latter chooses to go back to her previous life, which she believes will remain the same or probably even better, under the protection of the Lord. In contrast, we see Bartelomew heartbroken and begging her not to go.
Honestly, the ending makes you think that yes, it was for the best that they separated. And it is probably the lack of context we have regarding such religious establishments of the past that we don’t feel sad for it having burned down. However, some reading and research into it will make you feel different. And maybe it’s a personal opinion, but you can’t help screaming inside your head that Benedetta needs therapy and Bartelomew needs some sense of security. Each and every one of us requires a re-evaluation of our faith and what it means for us and for others.
Honestly, maybe that was the point of the story. It wasn’t about who we love or what we do for it but about where we get our sense of right and wrong from and the importance of questioning that source. We urge you to read more about Benedetta if you can, since the rest of her life also deserves to be known.