Florinda Balkan plays Flavia, who, at a young age, is sent by her not-so-noble father to live in a convent as soon as her sensuality starts popping up, in particular with the meeting of a Muslim who gets beheaded in the battlefield. As the years go by, she grows more and more rebellious, and her hatred for a patriarchal culture becomes the center of the story, as she decides to go against the Church and into the side of the Muslims when the inevitable war comes. Asking herself why males dominate society and wrestling with feelings of her own repressed sexuality, she becomes the ultimate rebel, a rebel that will soon meet her ultimate end.
Here is an interesting film, that’s for sure. It’s been placed under the nunsploitation film for many years, and it’s easy to see why, as it features nuns. Most nunsploitation films try to be more than what they really are, trying to inject the story with criticisms against the church and political rebellion in the midst of it’s sex and torture. But this movie indeed achieves that extra something, making the whole “nun” thing a little obsolete after a while. The movie has nudity and has torture, neither of them being very effective. The special effect are not very good, dismembered heads looking almost like volleyballs with hair and a particular nipple-torture scene looking very boring. They sadly regress to the whole ‘animal violence” shock device that Italians are so well known for, by having a horse being castrated on-screen. But it’s Flavia’s war against her father and the government he represents that take center stage. It’s interesting that the story takes place during the Crusades between the white European countries and the Muslims, which reflect the conflict of the story. Although sometimes, it does seem to nail the message in a little too hard. A lot of the dialogue seems to be nailing in the head, so to speak, making the message a little too obvious sometimes. There’s a scene where Flavia and the Jewish man discuss the origin of the legend of Lilith, which basically makes you wonder if the filmmakers are just saying “here, get it?!?” There’s also the scenes where Flavia tells her Jew friend to ‘stop with the male caring”. It’s a little ridiculous, although not as ridiculous as the famous ‘trippin’ balls’ sequence, which has most of the nudity in the film. I’m surprised that for a movie that has such a reputation for being so notorious when it lacks in its exploitative departments.
One thing this film does not falter on is Florinda Balkan’s performance. She owns the movie and every scene she’s in. An actress of Brazilian descent who called herself “JFK’s last lover” (?), she outdoes herself, even surpassing her famous film-stealing role as the peasant girl in Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling. She’s sympathetic, aggressive and her performance is realistic, making you feel sorry for her when her inevitable end comes. But the real shocker in the film is Maria Casares as Sister Agatha, who had previously appeared in such famous Arthouse fare as Carne’s The Children Of Paradise and Cocteau’s Orpheus. Carrying a phallic stick and becoming the mentor of Flavia before her inevitable rebellion, she features a madness that is very welcome in this film. Probably the weirdest scene comes in the field where we see her urinating, then making Flavia masturbate by rubbing her legs together, before speaking to Flavia about how she wants to over-power men and become the Pope. No wonder Flavia hated men so much!
Anyway, this is a better film than most people will claim to, although it does have it’s flaws. If you’re looking simply for exploitative moments, you might be disappointed, however, if you want a well-made, well acted film about female rebellion in an oppressive patriarchal society, this is highly recommended.