What links Paul Verhoeven’s convent romp to the Sopranos?

From Benedetta to Showgirls – via Christopher Walken in A View to a Kill – we shimmy down the rabbit hole with the controversial film-maker

Dutch master

As Easter approaches, let us turn to 83-year-old Dutch cinematic provocateur Paul Verhoeven for spiritual guidance. In 2008 he published Jesus of Nazareth, a historical study of the journeyman carpenter. Now, continuing his recent vein of European arthouse served with a dollop of pulp trash, comes Benedetta (in cinemas from Friday), a salacious story of lesbian nuns in a 17th-century Tuscan convent. Charlotte Rampling and Virginie Efira star.

Paul Verhoeven
Paul Verhoeven directed Benedetta … Photograph: Getty Images

Riff it up and start again

The score for Benedetta comes from English composer Anne Dudley. The polymath musician was also a member of avant-pop band the Art of Noise, alongside producer Trevor Horn and journalist Paul Morley. In the full pomp of his 1980s new pop label ZTT, Horn produced Grace Jones’s 1985 album Slave to the Rhythm.

Grace Jones
… with music written by Anne Dudley, who was in the Art of Noise with Paul Morley and Trevor Horn, who produced Slave to the Rhythm by Grace Jones … Photograph: Getty Images

Severance plan

Jones also had time in 1985 to pull up to the final Roger Moore Bond as May Day in A View to a Kill, with Christopher Walken playing dastardly industrialist Max Zorin. More recently, Walken can be seen in the “impressively idiosyncratic” workplace dystopia drama Severance (Apple TV+).

Christopher Walken
… who was in A View to a Kill with Christopher Walken, who stars in Severance … Photograph: Stéphane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

All in the family

Also in Severance is John Turturro. Walken’s wife, Georgianne, meanwhile, was a casting director and worked on The Sopranos, which never featured Turturro but did include his cousin Aida as Tony’s (played by James Gandolfini) sister Janice. Gandolfini was in the musical Romance & Cigarettes, directed by John, though directing isn’t his forte. Time hasn’t been kind to his Fading Gigolo, in which he also played a male sex worker, with Woody Allen his pimp and Sharon Stone his client. A museum piece.

Sharon Stone
… with John Turturro, whose Fading Gigolo starred Sharon Stone … Photograph: Antidote Films/Allstar

The book of Joe

At the height of Verhoeven’s run of Hollywood flicks with an arthouse inflection, Stone was in the brilliant Total Recall, and stole the show in peak erotic thriller Basic Instinct. Notorious screenwriter Joe Eszterhas was behind that and Verhoeven’s follow-up flop Showgirls. Like Verhoeven, Eszterhas dabbles in religion, having written a book about finding Christianity, and a troubled account of working for Mel Gibson in Heaven and Mel. Helluva title.

Joe Eszterhas
… who was in Basic Instinct, written by Joe Eszterhas, who was also behind Verhoeven’s Showgirls … Photograph: Reuters

Pairing notes

Watch Reviled then revered is a trademark of Verhoeven’s films. His 1997 totalitarianism satire Starship Troopers grows in stature, while the 2019 documentary You Don’t Nomi examines the lingering power of Showgirls.

Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers.
Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. Photograph: Touchstone Pictures/Allstar

Eat You don’t need to get thee to a nunnery to savour the flavours of Tuscany – recent London favourite Brutto recreates the tastes of Florence with devotion. The tiramisu is heavenly.

Three rabbits with their heads in holes


Larry Ryan

The GuardianTramp

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