Viva (2007)

Viva first published by Little White Lies

Review: “This is the 1970s – we’re liberated women now!” Well, sort of…

Abandoned by her neglectful husband Rick (Chad England), bored suburban housewife Barbi (Anna Biller) joins her swinging friend Sheila (Bridget Brno)  to benefit from their “newfound freedom” by joining a call girl service (“I’ve always wanted to be a prostitute – it sounds so romantic”) as a route to finding their perfect male companion.

Indeed, seemingly every man, not to mention several women, wants a piece of Barbi, but amidst the free-loving naturalists, lecherous artists and rape-minded impresarios, a good man proves hard to find – and so this innocent’s adventures in becoming “totally a woman” will bring her back full circle to settling with (and for) Rick, in an age (perhaps like our own) where sexuality is always performed and desire looks ever backward.

Like her earlier short films, Anna Biller’s feature debut Viva pastiches a very specific type of cinema, this time closely aping the stylings and mannerisms of late Sixties and Seventies sexploitation from the likes of Paul Morrissey, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Russ Meyer and Radley Metzger. Yet the compelling tropes and conventions of genre here are made to reflect the trap(pings) of patriarchy, to whose invisible, ever-present rules and regulations our doll-like heroine gleefully conforms – a Frankenstein’s monster of male desire, yet longing for liberation.

Asked about Playboy magazine, Sheila declares, “I only look at it for the articles” – and sure enough, Viva itself plays like an oldschool porno stripped of all its money shots, so that only the ‘dramatic’ dialogue scenes (and some tasteful nudity) remain. Every character is a cheesy stereotype, every line a camp cliché, every tune an easy listen. So spot-on is the parody that you quickly forget that this erotic schlockfest was lavishly recreated in the Noughties. Thanks to Biller’s obsessive costume and production design, it is an aesthetic wet dream for anyone who fetishises the fashions of the early Seventies. The only inauthentic detail here is the ill-judged two-hour duration, stretching the material a good 30 minutes beyond its welcome.

Summary: Anna Biller’s pastiche of Seventies sexploitation flicks finds its G-spot somewhere in the space between past misogyny and present feminism. Full of perfectly cringy period detail, it is a transgressive joy – if somewhat overlong.

Anton Bitel