Thursday, August 27, 2020

#2,515. Flavia the Heretic (1974)

Flavia the Heretic, a 1974 Italian film, fits neatly into the nunsploitation subgenre, with sex and violence aplenty. But director Gianfranco Mingozzi takes things a step further by presenting the story of a woman who has grown weary of living in a male-dominated society, and decides to do something about it.

Puglia, Italy, circa 1400. After angering her father by taking a lover, Flavia (Florinda Bolkan) is sent to a convent, where she witnesses a number of atrocities committed against women by the local men. Shocked and angered, Flavia risks her position as well as her life by siding with an invading Muslim army, in the hopes they will help her destroy those who have wronged both she and her fellow sisters.

Flavia the Heretic has a rough-around-the-edges look and feel, which, seeing as its story takes place in the early part of the 15th century, works in its favor. You fully accept that you are watching events set hundreds of years in the past. The film’s real strength, though, lies in the performance of Florinda Bolkan, and the fact that her character is bold enough to do something most women of this time period (or, indeed, most leads in a typical nunsploitation film) wouldn’t dream of doing: hitting back against those who mistreat her, and fighting for her independence regardless of the consequences.

As mentioned above, Flavia the Heretic has plenty of nudity and violence. There is also a graphic rape scene (set in - of all places - a pig pen), and when the sexual passions of Flavia’s friend Sister Livia (Raika Juri) are ignited by a visiting Tarantula cult (one of the movie’s most memorable scenes), the poor nun is punished for her “transgression” by being tied to a table, stripped naked, and having hot oil poured onto her breast.

Flavia The Heretic does lose its way towards the end, when Flavia is in full revenge mode. After she leads the Muslim army into the convent, the nuns are made to drink an elixir that stimulates their libido, leading to what I can only describe as a drug-induced orgy (with a dash of cannibalism thrown in for good measure). Though certainly unique, this sequence feels out of place with what has gone before it.

Still, as nunsploitation flicks go, this one is more interesting than the standard fare. Be warned, though: Flavia the Heretic is an often brutal motion picture (with its most disturbing bit of violence coming right at the end), so if you’re squeamish, you might want to think twice before sitting down and watching it. But by straddling the line between straight-up exploitation and historical drama as well as it does, I was ultimately impressed with the results
Rating: 7 out of 10 (worth watching if you think you can stomach it)

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