“You’re not only a whore, you’re a filthy lesbian!” Raunchy and radical, Viva is bursting at the seams with queer comedy, erotic adventure and gender role drama. Directed, written and starring Anna Biller, most known for her feminist masterpiece The Love Witch, the film follows Barbi (Biller) and Sheila (Bridget Brno) as they explore sex, drugs and each other’s husbands in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Barbi, much like Sheila, is a bored housewife who finds herself swept away by the sexual revolution of the 70s. Fired from her job and neglected by her workaholic husband, Barbi begins to explore her new found curiosity for life in more ways than one.
As Biller’s first feature film in 2007, Viva showcases the perfectionism of her craft. The aesthetic is purposefully detailed, with an aggressive array of colours so stunning it becomes impossible to look away. The wigs are persistently terrible, much like the dialogue; as the off-beat, theatrical delivery of every line aids in creating the sexy surrealism that is Viva.
The concept for Viva first took formation in a photo series shot by Biller, inspired by some old Playboy magazines. The photo series contains images of her friends by a pool in sunny LA, capturing the seedy seduction of a 1960s swinging couple. As Biller began to develop the photo series, Viva began to take shape, crafting sexploitation with a campy critical overtone. Irony oozes out of every scene, as Biller delivers an incredibly charming performance.
Every man Barbi interacts with aggressively encourages her to further explore her sexuality and take risks – before judging her and assaulting her if she refuses their sexual advances. Rediscovering herself, Barbi explores her new found alter ego ‘Viva’, and thus redefines sex on her own terms, much to the dismay of the manipulative, misogynistic men she attracts.
At times, Viva lacks the charm and sex appeal Biller is striving for, with certain scenes feeling tedious, fluffing out the two hour run time. The satirical criticism of the sexual revolution gets lost in certain parts as boredom takes over. Generally, Viva is an interesting and captivating watch, although the long run time and off-beat comedy result in a film that is certainly not for everyone. It’s certainly clear that Viva walked, so The Love Witch could run.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray release of VIVA is out now
by Kelsie Dickinson