"Think the word blasphemy, for me, in this case, is stupid," Verhoeven said at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival in response to criticism of his new movie Benedetta

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Paul Verhoeven
Credit: VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty

Nun-ya business.

Director Paul Verhoeven, whose new movie Benedetta details the steamy relationship of two nuns in the 17th century, responded to critics who called his religious film "blasphemous."

"I don't really understand how you can really [be] blasphemous about something that happened — even if it's in 1625," Verhoeven, 82, said during a press conference at the 74th Annual Cannes Film Festival, where Benedetta premiered on Friday.

"It's true, mostly. I mean, of course, we changed a little bit. But it is not… why would [you] talk about blasphemy about something that happened 4, 500 years ago? I think that's wrong," he added.

Verhoeven based Benedetta on Judith C. Brown's nonfiction book Immodest Acts – The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy.

One scene in the period drama sees a statue of the Virgin Mary being used as a sex toy, which Comingsoon.net wrote "results in just free blasphemy." Indiewire declared that Verhoeven presents "a generally blasphemous — or perhaps just humanistic? — attitude toward the dogmas of the Catholic Church." And Variety suggested that Verhoeven likely chose to tell the story of Benedetta and her lover Bartolomea for its "kink" and that he "would have much interest in Benedetta Carlini's story if her bedroom exploits were not so controversial."  

Some appreciated the alleged irreverence. The Observer called Benedetta "smart smut" and Twitter user @stayawayfr0mher wrote, "The best thing about benedetta, aside from lesbians, is blasphemy."

"You cannot basically change history. It's done. People have done that," the Dutch director, who recently denied tricking Sharon Stone into doing nude scenes in Basic Instinct, continued. "You can talk about that was wrong or not but you cannot change history. You cannot change the things that happened — and I based it on the things that happened. So I think the word blasphemy, for me, in this case, is stupid."

When a French reporter asked about what he believed to be gratuitous nudity featured in the film, Verhoeven defended that, too.

"Don't forget, in general, people, when they have sex, they take their clothes off," he said. "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 is, in my opinion, wrong."

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Verhoeven told Variety earlier this month that he wanted to make Benedetta because "it was a story that had to be told."

"Homosexuality is part of life, so it should be a part of our dramas," he said. "Why should I ignore that? It's there. A certain part of the population is bisexual or homosexual or transgender, that's the reality."