Flavia The Heretic

Flavia The Heretic

The setting is 15th Century Italy. As a young girl, Flavia wanders through a straw field during the aftermath of a bloody battle. A handsome soldier rises from the human debris and gives her a charmed smile. Clearly flattered, Flavia's flirting is cut short by her father's arrival on the scene as he raises his sword and decapitates the rival soldier in front of her.

With the air filled by dry ice and it's quietly disturbing build-up, it could be argued that the above opening is the most atmospheric scene of the entire movie.

To curb her youthful lust, Flavia's (Florinda Bolkan with cropped hair) father banishes her to a nunnery. It's here that she witnesses a visit from the infamous Tarantula sect, who whip the nuns into a frenzy of simulated sex and hallucinating images of Christ-like knights. The Tarantula scene is bizarre indeed, filled with striking (albeit tame) images, all shot with undeniable finesse by director Gianfranco Mingozzi. Most effective is the sight of the nuns laid in crucifixion postures on a marble floor. Simple, but provocative.

Flavia escapes the convent and stumbles waywardly out into the outside world, through some beautifully shot Italian countryside. Again, though, she bears further witness to the evils of man

Resting at a nearby farm, Flavia is shocked when she spies the farmer raping a young lady in the pig pen. When her attempt to thwart the rape by throwing a rock at the farmer proves unsuccessful, Flavia flees the scene. Moments later the farmer catches up with her on his horse, and propositions her - surmising that she only reacted so violently to what she saw because she was jealous.

This is just one example of the attitudes motivating the male characters in Mingozzi's film, adding a distasteful misogynistic undertone to what is already a sexually violent picture.

Flavia survives the farmer's advances, however, and instead is captured and taken back to the convent to witness more brutality perpetrated against women by men. With the help of her friend, Sister Agatha (Maria Casares) and an invading army of Muslims, Flavia decides it is time to show the women-hating males and sexually confused nuns a thing or two

Throughout the film, women are feared and loathed by the male characters: rape, torture and/or violent death are on the cards for every female cursed with more than a couple of lines of dialogue.

It could be disputed that this merely serves to show the males in a bad light, thus presenting a more credible argument for Flavia's rise from submissive innocent to fiery-tempered feminist tyrant. Certainly, the film attempts to build a strong case for Flavia's hatred of men (specifically her father) - and yet we ultimately realise that it is Flavia's love for two men that may be her greatest weakness.

What FLAVIA is - whether or not you buy into the 'bold feminist statement' tag or not - is sheer exploitation of a particularly questionable kind as we witness men gathering excitedly to watch women being scarred by acid, flayed alive (admittedy, an impressive effect) and have their nipples hacked off.

All of which makes FLAVIA sound a lot more gruesome than it actually is. Perhaps due to budgetary limitations, the effects are competent but the camera is reluctant to linger on them for longer than a second or two at a time - hiding their cheapness. The cinematography of Alfio Contini offers style to proceedings, especially in the many outdoor scenes. The only other trace of style is during a bizarre dream sequence towards the film's end (including the notorious scene of a naked woman climbing into the gutted carcass of a cow), which works well in a Jodorowsky type of way.

Elsewhere the low budget surfaces during a ludicrously choreographed battle scene between Flavia's beau (Anthony Higgins) and a rival knight. The interplay between the two swordsmen is laughable - could they ever wound each other with such pitiful swipes?!

For the main part, FLAVIA is badly dubbed and slowly paced. And even though Synapse have here presented us with the 'Uncensored International Version' - the film's reputation of wall-to-wall perversion and sadism is hardly substantiated.

Having said that, it's good to see the movie fully intact (it's only UK release - the Redemption VHS of the early 90s - was butchered by the BBFC).

Synapse have done an excellent job restoring this long-lost "classic" - particularly in an English language version. The film is presented in a luscious 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with nice sharp images and no sign of colour-bleeding. The occasional specks and grain is not really worthy of mention - overall picture qualityis excellent. The opening and closing credits have been sourced separately to the main film and are letterboxed. They're also inferior in picture quality to the remainder of the film.

Sound is English mono and there no complaints in this department. Hiss-free, it's as good as you can expect from a basic 1974 sound mix.

Considering the movie's dubious cult status, the extras on this disc are a tad underwhelming. A posters & stills gallery largely comprises of international lobby cards and theatrical poster artwork, which is relatively interesting. Liner notes by Nathaniel Thompson offer a brief history of nunsploitation flicks, and a critique of FLAVIA itself.

Best extra is a brand new video interview with Bolkan, who looks very well considering the movie is 30 years old! She talks about her character's motivation, and - bizarrely - her hair in the film. It's a good (if somewhat dodgily lit) interview that unfortunately is all too brief.

The disc itself comes in a keepcase packaging with a four-page booklet inside.

Kudos to Synapse for tracing and restoring this film so lovingly, finally giving everyone the chance to witness a film whose reputation seems to have grown largely due to the curiosity of people who haven't seen the uncensored version. Well here's their chance

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Synapse
Region - All (NTSC)
Not Rated - uncut
Ratio - Anamorphic widescreen
Extras :
Interview, Stills gallery