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  Viva Woman's Liberation
Year: 2007
Director: Anna Biller
Stars: Anna Biller, Jared Sanford, Bridget Brno, Chad England, Marcus DeAnda, John Klemantaski, Paolo Davanzo, Barry Morse, Cole Chipman, Robbin Ryan, Carole Balkan, Andrea Lain, Johnny Holiday, Veronica Alicino, Sam Bologna, Barry O'Rourke
Genre: Comedy, Drama, SexBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1972, the place is the suburbs and Barbi (Anna Biller) is a secretary who is close to her next door neighbour Sheila (Bridget Brno). Today, while her husband Rick (Chad England) is out at work - yet another business trip - she goes over to see her and enjoy themselves by the pool, with Sheila's husband Mark (Jared Sanford) looking on, and keen to try out his new camera when the ladies strip down to their bikinis. However, Barbi is about to undergo a serious change in lifestyle when she is fired by her boss, who finds out she is married. How about going on a journey of sexual exploration, Barbi? And changing your name to Viva while you're at it?

The first thing you notice about Viva is its impeccably vintage look, as although this was a low budget film it goes the extra mile to be as authentic as possible to the era it is set during. In fact, so faithful to the sexploitation of yore is the production that the flat lighting, scenery colour-coordinated around the costumes and cheerfully blank line readings can look perilously close to a novelty sketch stretched out way past the point that anyone would have stopped laughing. And yet, there's something oddly engaging, even innocent about its effect that compels you to stay with it, a curiosity akin to seeing if a marathon runner can stick to the race to the end.

Make no mistake, Viva is far too long, and at two hours there would be few who would not say they got their money's worth, if anything they'd say they got more than they bargained for. For all those reservations you do leave the experience with a respect for the filmmakers, or more specifically Anna Biller for it is she who not only starred and directed it, but wrote the script, produced it, edited it, designed the costumes and sets, and even animated the short cartoon that appears near the climax. For that reason, there's something unexpectedly endearing about the whole enterprise - or is it Biller who is endearing?

There's little doubt that this is one woman's vision we're seeing on the screen, however eccentric it may be, but while she does doff her clothes for her camera, in the style of a Radley Metzger movie (music from that filmmaker's work is utilised on the soundtrack for the benefit of those nostalgic for such things), she does seem more keen on dressing up. Her character's name, Barbi, is surely no random choice, as Biller becomes her own Barbie doll to adorn herself with clothes from the seventies dressing up box, and she encourages the rest of her cast to join her. You may be watching for the nudity, but Biller is making this strictly for the style.

The plot is a long and rambling one which goes off in occasional unnecessary directions - there's not one but two rape scenes that are treated in an uncomfortably offhand manner (Barbi doesn't even get the police involved, perhaps because there were no seventies cop uniforms at the film's disposal). What this amounts to is the heroine finding she is more innocent than she initially thought, and when she has a row with Rick who then leaves her, she and Sheila, who has split up with Mark, decide to embrace the already-growing-jaded sexual revolution and turn to prostitution. If you're having trouble believing that twist, then the campy tone excuses it as a homage to the unlikely ways the films this pays tribute to thought up to undress their casts. As if the candy-coloured visuals were not enough, there are even a few musical numbers thrown in halfway through, one at an orgy, naturally. There's no doubting Viva is a curio, but if you get where Biller is coming from you should appreciate it. She also played the organ on some of the soundtrack, according to the credits.

[The Nouveau Pictures Region 2 DVD has a trailer, stills and featurette as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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