Thursday, July 22, 2010

Flavia the Heretic (1974)

Directed by Gianfranco Mingozzi
Starring Florinda Bolkan, Maria Casares, Claudio Cassenelli

"Running away, huh? What happened to all that masculine arrogance?

As a young child, Flavia (played by Florinda Bolkan), witnessed the beheading of a Muslim warrior during a battle with Catholic soldiers. Shortly thereafter, her father sent her to a convent to live the remainder of her life.

During her long years at the convent, Flavia becomes fixated with a wall painting of a saint. Flavia sees this saint as the Muslim warrior she had witnessed beheaded as a youth. She sees him as a great and brave man. The mother superior just thinks that she is confusing her feeling of affection for this painting for her lust for flesh, but Flavia wants to hear nothing of it.

In fact, as the movie progresses, Flavia begins to see the Christian men around her as the root of all evils in the world. During her stay, she sees a horse castrated (which I would say is the real deal), a woman raped, a group of horny hippies shunned from the convent for their wicked ways, and one of her sisters punished severely for falling under the influence of the cult that had visited.

Being sick of these horrors of man, she decides to leave the convent. On her journey, she meets a Jewish man to whom she grows quite fond of. Unfortunately, Flavia and her companion are quickly captured and Flavia is sent back to the convent.

Upon her return, Flavia is whipped as punishment for her transgresses at the command of her father. She spits at him angrily as he watches on, symbolizing her complete disgust at this man and his evil ways.

One day, during a festival honoring the Virgin Mary, an army of Muslims come in from the sea and seize the city. Instead of running away, Flavia eagerly gives herself over to the leader, seeing him as her savior.

Once she returns to the leader's castle, she asks for help in getting her revenge against her people, and he happily complies.

Flavia returns to the convent as a warrior herself and leads the troops into her once home to capture and torture the sisters and the men who led her down this path.

By taking her revenge, Flavia inadvertently becomes the very thing she was disgusted by and fighting against.

Flavia the Heretic is a compelling and shocking film. At the same time you are rooting for Flavia and her cause, you also condemn her actions, staring in disbelief at what you witness her become in the process.

You could say that Flavia the Heretic is a nunsploitation movie, which would be true, but it is also so much more. It not only tackles many moral quandaries, but also is artful, surreal and utterly hypnotizing in the way that it takes you on a journey to which you never know where you'll end up next.

Synapse Films has Flavia the Heretic in an uncut, uncensored cut and I highly recommend it to anyone who appreciates challenging cinema and has a strong stomach. Enjoy.

- Jeremy Vaca

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