Italy 1600: A convent of nuns are invaded by the Tarantula Sect on their annual pilgrimage. The cultists defile the place of worship, orgying in the chapel and desecrating the altar. One nun decides she can't take the religious oppression any longer and flees the convent upset that all the leaders are male. Written by
Too many sources routinely lump this thought-provoking period drama in part based on historical fact together with the superficially similar "nunsploitation" which was a mainstay in '70s Euro trash cinema, overlooking the righteous anger that drives the whole endeavor. Perhaps coincidentally it was also director Gianfranco Mingozzi's singular attempt at narrative film-making outside of many well-received documentaries.
Safely set within a historical context, FLAVIA charts the growing rebellion of an early 15th century Italian nun (Florinda Bolkan's career performance, even surpassing her sterling work in Lucio Fulci's devastating DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING), locked away in convent by her not so nobleman father in a desperate attempt to curb the girl's budding sensuous nature. Wondering why women are relegated to secondary roles at best in life as in holy scripture, she is confronted by ways in which male domination can rupture female lives, inspiring revolt fueled by the ranting of semi-crazed older Sister Agatha (indelibly portrayed by veteran actress Maria Casarès from Marcel Carné's LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS) and - more constructively - by a Muslim invasion. Joining the oppressors and perhaps unwittingly manipulating them to do her bidding, Flavia truly becomes the outcast she already felt herself to be, with expected tragic results.
With its breathtaking widescreen compositions by Alfio Contini, who shot Michelangelo Antonioni's ZABRISKIE POINT, this is an uncompromising and austere account of one woman's fierce yet ultimately futile fight against patriarchal society which allotted her no rights beyond childbearing or whoring as Sister Agatha wryly remarks. A lengthy drug-induced fantasy sequence clearly modeled on Ken Russell's otherwise far more flamboyant DEVILS notwithstanding, the movie turns out relatively stingy in the skin department, making something of a mockery out of its semi-porn reputation. This is a serious work deserving rediscovery and restoration of its unjustly tarnished reputation.
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