Flavia the Heretic (1974)

What a strange film. This one's a bit of a mish-mash, and I'm not sure it will really please anyone. It's basically a historical tale with some moments of hideous violence, nudity and a considerable amount of serious feminist content! Do you want to know more?

It's 1600 in Italy. Young Flavia has been forced into a nunnery by her stern father. She dislikes life there, and all around her sees how women are mistreated by men. When women from the whacked-out Tarantula sect are allowed in and throw themselves about in sexual reveries, a sister nun wants to join them. To punish her, she's tortured viciously by priests. Flavia is horrified. She runs away with a Jewish male friend, but is recaptured and whipped to within an inch of her life.

The head nun is basically insane, and wants to overthrow the Pope and take over. Before any of this goes any further though, the Muslims attack. Sensing an opportunity for some kind of freedom, Flavia escapes with them. Taking a Muslim lover, Flavia attacks her countrymen in revenge. Now she wears armour instead of a nun's habit. The nuns are attacked and fed aphrodesiac. Some even drink blood. Her father is cornered by Muslims and thrown into a deep well, to his death. Flavia has intense dreams of sexual abandonment. Revealing his brutality, her Muslim lover kills her Jewish friend, then tries to dress her in subservient female robes. Flavia has had enough. She slaps the Muslim, thus sealing her doom.

Abandoned by the invaders, Flavia is left to her fellow villagers. As vicious as the army who attacked them, they execute Flavia by skinning her alive.

All sounds pretty grim, huh? Yep, it is. It's obviously a very serious film, and though the ultraviolence, gore and nudity on display would lend themselves well to an exploitation film - which this sort of is - it seems to me that we have a feminist drama playing itself out before us. I've watched this one a couple of times and always come away depressed. I guess I need some fun with my exploitation! I know that humanity is shit ... I'll watch Bicycle thieves if I want art, I guess. Still, director Gianfranco Mingozzi has seemingly done his best with the material at hand, and all the actors put a reasonable amount of feeling into the proceedings. I guess you have to be in the right mood for something like this ... Don't expect to leave the TV room skipping.

Recommended only to those who like the serious touch to their exploitation.

© Boris Lugosi 2002.