Flavia the Heretic (1974)

Genres - Horror  |   Sub-Genres - Period Film  |   Run Time - 96 min.  |   Countries - France , Italy   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Donald Guarisco

The Devils aside, "nunsploitation" is generally not a genre that offers a lot of serious drama. This is why Flavia The Heretic is such a surprise: between the expected shocks and carnality, there is a unexpectedly thoughtful film with a feminist bent. The film devotes a surprising amount of time to the exploration of religion's effect on the masses and the plight of free-thinking women in the social order of the Middle Ages. It should be noted that Flavia The Heretic is not a film for the faint hearted: the sexual and religious/blasphemous elements will automatically turn off a lot of viewers and there are a few torture sequences that will make even the bravest viewers flinch. That said, these elements are couched in a serious approach that avoids making the shocking moments feel exploitative. Flavia The Heretic also benefits from two key elements. The first is Florinda Bolkan's stunning lead performance: she gives a convincing, impassioned turn as she gradually transforms from a free-thinking misfit into an angry revolutionary and her haunting presence truly anchors the story. The second is the direction by Gianfranco Mingozzi: his script can get a little preachy in the dialogue but he makes up for it with his knack for atmosphere. He creates a world where stunning brutality coexists with beauty and offsetting one against other to stunning effect. The end result is definitely not for all tastes but Flavia The Heretic is worth the time for the open-minded cult film fan who can handle its singular mix of the intellectual and the visceral.