Veteran film provocateur Paul Verhoeven hit back Saturday at Catholics who have condemned his lesbian nun movie "Benedetta" as blasphemous over scenes in which a statue of the Virgin Mary is used as a sex toy.
The "Basic Instinct" and "Showgirls" director, who has also long drawn the ire of feminists, told reporters at the Cannes film festival that he had nothing to be ashamed of.
"How you can you be blasphemous about something that happened, that's true?" the 82-year-old told reporters in response to social media outrage over the illicit relationship at the heart of the film between a 17th-century Italian abbess and one of her novices.
"You cannot talk about blasphemy about something that happened four hundred years ago. I think that's wrong," he added.
The big-budget romp, which delights in its rather obvious eroticism, is in the running for Cannes top prize, the Palme d'Or.
Belgian star Virginie Efira -- who also featured in Verhoeven's Oscar-nominated "Elle" about a woman's rape fantasies -- plays the errant abbess Benedetta Carlini, who is stripped of her authority (and just about everything else) when her passion for a fellow nun is revealed.
While many critics panned the film, with The Guardian saying that "Verhoeven may have to do some contrite murmuring in the confessional for this one", the BBC proclaimed it a "searing exploration of faith and organised religion" as it anointed it with five stars.
The movie industry bible Variety took a middle path, deeming it a "guilty-pleasure nunsploitation" flick.
Verhoeven adapted the film from an acclaimed non-fiction book by Judith C. Brown, "Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy".
The director, who has previously denied there was such a thing as a "male gaze", even claimed that his film could be seen as feminist, an assertion backed by one of his actresses, Louise Chevillotte.
"From the moment you let women have complex characters that are so violent and so subversive, yes, there is feminism," she said.