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Synapse Films presents
Flavia the Heretic (Flavia la Monaca Musulmana) (1974)

"Why? Why is God male? The father, the son and the holy ghost, all male. Even the twelve apostles, all twelve of them, males!"
- Flavia Gaetani (Florinda Bolkan)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 30, 2003

Stars: Florinda Bolkan, Maria Casares, Claudio Cassinelli, Anthony Higgins
Other Stars: Spiros Focas, Diego Michelotti
Director: Gianfranco Mingozzi

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, gore, nudity, sexuality, rape, torture, mutilation, animal cruelty, naughty nuns)
Run Time: 01h:41m:06s
Release Date: May 20, 2003
UPC: 654930302491
Genre: cult

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+A-C C+

DVD Review

Few cult genres are quite as bizarre as the weird world of nunsploitation, which briefly flourished in Eurosleaze during the 1970s and early 1980s, particularly in Catholic Italy. There's just something fascinating about seeing "brides of Christ" possessed by demons, cavorting in the nude and generally misbehaving badly. Synapse has provided a restoration to uncut status of one of the best of the subgenre, also known under a wide variety of titles such as Flavia the Moslem Nun and the like.

Set in 1400s Italy, Flavia tells the story of Flavia Gaetani (Florinda Bolkan), who as a young woman expresses a sexual fascination with the invading Moslems. This is sufficient cause for her cruel father to have her stuck in a nunnery where torture and abuse are nothing unusual. Flavia experiences some of this herself when she briefly attempts to flee. But when she and the kinky Sister Agatha (Maria Casares) journey to a neighboring seacoast town to worship at a traveling Madonna icon, they find instead the invading Moslems. Flavia quickly takes up with the Moslem leader (Anthony Higgins), and then takes vengeance into her own hands as she leads the invaders back to the convent. She frees the nuns from the tyranny of the church, but the liberation doesn't fall out quite the way she expected.

One of the benefits of shooting a period film in Italy is that there are so many authentic sets still standing. The producers wisely use ancient monasteries here to give this low-budget effort a feeling of having quite lavish production values. The sets and photography are frequently beautiful, despite the often hideous goings-on. Among the visual treats are quite a few realistic gore and torture sequences, a rape in a pigpen, an onscreen horse castration and a nun being flayed alive. The imagery can also be fascinating, while highly disturbing; among these are sights of bleeding icons (from which Flavia drinks deeply) and a nude nun crawling inside the gutted carcass of a cow. Obviously, not one for the kiddies, and probably not on the approved viewing list of the Knights of Columbus.

Florinda Bolkan, in the first of two nunsploitation lead roles, does a serviceable job as the title character. She's helped by frequent extreme closeups that pick up on numerous subtleties of facial expression that give Flavia a complexity quite unexpected in this sort of picture. Maria Casares is highly entertaining as the more-than-half-mad Sister Agatha, ranting about the cruelty of men and pleasures of lesbian sex, while fantasizing about seizing the papacy. Less interesting are the men, who are mostly one-dimensional. Claudio Cassinelli doesn't get a lot to do as Flavia's Jewish friend Abraham, about whom Flavia is supposedly conflicted, but there is zero chemistry between them. Anthony Higgins (billed as Anthony Corlan) does a little better as the nameless Moslem leader, but since he hardly speaks it's difficult to get a read on him, other than as a fantasy figure. And fantasy does play a large role in this film, with numerous flights of fancy, probably influenced by similar sequences in Ken Russell's The Devils (1971). Perhaps one day that classic will also be available fully uncut and restored?

Flavia has plenty of interesting little tidbits throughout, such as the invasion of the convent by a Tarantula cult early on, which helps release some of the nuns' inhibitions (and of course for which they pay frightfully). The score by Nicola Piovani is gentle for the most part, creating a madrigal-like air that helps set the film in centuries gone past. Certainly this would be a good entry vehicle for one looking to see what nunsploitation is all about. There's plenty of all the nasty stuff that is at the heart of the subgenre, plus a bit more meat than the usual fare.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The picture here is nothing less than revelatory. Detail is crisp and clear throughout, with no edge enhancement. The color palette is rather muted, not atypical for a 1974 picture, but skin tones seem to be spot on. Textures are well-rendered, as is the fairly heavy grain. The result is a very filmlike appearance that is worlds ahead of the usual blurry presentations. Some speckling is seen throughout but that's really the only significant defect. Synapse is to be commended for the visuals here.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The only sound is a 2.0 mono English track. Although filmed in Italy, most of the actors seem to be speaking their lines in English. The dubbing (since Italian films are seldom shot with live sound) is passably good and there's not a great deal of extraneous lipflap. Hiss and noise are unfortunately rather prominent, and at about 1h:22m:10s the soundtrack warbles significantly for a minute or so. The music doesn't have much depth or presence. However, I doubt that there was much to work with in the first place. It's acceptable for what it is.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:00m:42s

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
  2. Audio from the 45 rpm soundtrack
Extras Review: Florinda Bolkan speaks about the film in an 11m:54s interview. Still striking nearly 30 years later, she speaks enthusiastically about Flavia as a feminist text, and explains the effect she was going for with her often deadpan acting style. Unfortunately, the interview was taped in a restaurant with a great deal of ambient racket, and it's badly overlit to boot, making viewing a bit difficult. A thorough photo gallery features 19 German lobby cards, 22 production stills, five posters from a variety of countries, a couple pages of ad slicks and the front and back picture sleeves of the 45 rpm soundtrack record.

As an unadvertised extra, what are apparently the two sides of this single are played over two of the menus: the main title (2m:12s) plays over the main menu, while what seems to be a suite of other music (4m:09s) is heard on the special features menu. Both are presented in stereo, unlike the mono presentation in the film and, despite a little crackle, sound much better in this version. A thorough set of liner notes are provided by Nathaniel Thompson, author of the fun DVD Delirium volume.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Synapse provides a wonderful transfer of a nunsploitation film usually hacked to bits and seen in blurry bootlegs. The extras are worthwhile, if brief.


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