A constant state of aroused puckishness is the best way to describe the act of viewing Viva for the first time. Circumventing a world where curvy organic structures, Swedish meatballs, communal nudity, gossamer clothing, resplendent orgies, wife swapping, and lush fields of pastoral pubic hair are commonplace, the prospect of looking away from this profoundly chichi ode to self-indulgence, suburban ennui and the films of Radley Metzger, for even a second, caused my aura to become severely bummed out. The stylized visual bouquet that this work of cinematic foppishness puts out there is downright addictive. Harking back to a time when men could laugh loudly at their own jokes while smoking and drinking in lime green slacks, and women could read Playboy in skimpy nighties (the kind that allow your legs to do most of the sexy talking) by the pool and openly woolgather about becoming a high class prostitute, the film makes you long for the freewheeling, uninhibited era known in some circles as the early 1970s. A fleeting increment of time, the period is painstakingly recreated in such a convincing manner, that you often forget that you're watching something that was made during the dreariness of whatever the hell right now is called.
Conventional boredom and stresses that come with suburban living have begun to take their toll on Barbie Smith (Anna Biller), a recently fired secretary with an unexplained allure. Being married to Rick (Chad "I totally look like a guy named Chad" England) and hosting the couple next-door, Sheila (the shapely Bridget Brno) and Mark (the awkwardly handsome Jared Sanford), has lost its lustre. The fact that Rick is always away on business doesn't help matters, as that is when Barbie's frustration really starts to bubble to surface.
It starts with the desire to be a model (which leads to an odd encounter with a Dorothy-friendly hairdresser and his Nordic, sugar craving neighbour), and ends with her teaming up with the equally disaffected Sheila with the single-minded goal of getting more in touch with her feminine infrastructure. Literally putting themselves out there for the world to see, the wannabe sex kittens attract the attention of Miss James (Carole Balkan), who offers to employ them as call girls. Realizing that prostitution is considered hip and cool in today's decadent society, the ladies jump at the chance to have bus shelter-quality intercourse with strangers.
Well, it's Sheila who does most of the jumping. (She basically just wants to bag an old rich dude in order to acquire a fur coat, a diamond bracelet and a white horse.) Barbie, on the other hand, is a tad more hesitant. The first guy she is paired with is a nudist named Elmer (Paolo Davanzo). Of course, Barbie is intimidated by the dangling nature of his lifestyle, and, not to mention, put off by his incessant groping. (Can you blame him? Barbie's knees are breathtakingly knee-like.) However, this brief encounter does give us a genitalia-infused peek into the inner workings of what an unclothed community must have looked like in 1972. Look closely and you'll notice a subtle (and cheeky) anachronism during the nudist sequence.Oh, and the gender of the filmmaker (who directed the majority of movie whilst wearing a negligee) meant that the level of penis and vagina on display was spread pretty evenly between the two distinct sets of crotch junk.
Barbie's hedonistic journey become more intense when she is introduced to an artist named Clyde (Marcus DeAnda), a horny photog with a healthy rump fetish. This pompous ass man takes an immediate liking to Barbie and her sublime shape, which inspires her to reinvent herself as Viva, a take charge woman who is not afraid of pleasure. It's the Italian word for living, and that's exactly what she what wants to start doing. This doesn't mean she wants to fornicate with Clyde. On the contrary (she finds him to be mildly repugnant). No, the reborn Viva finds herself drawn to Agnes (Robbin Ryan) at a swanky party. This encounter leads to much beach frolicking and one humdinger of an orgy sequence.
The most visually stimulating film to come in contact with my cerebral cortex in donkey's years, multitasker extraordinaire Anna Biller has fashioned an ocular feast for the senses. Every appendage of this beautifully chromatic film is literally engorged with an eye-pleasing vitality. The sets are magnificently constructed, the clothes radiate with an iridescent flair, and the music throbs with a retro sheen.
Now, this may sound like hyperbolic nonsense, but I was repeatedly worried about the operational integrity of my viewing screen as the visual grandeur of Viva washed over me at an alarming rate.
Take, for instance, the sheer garishness of the bathing suits worn by Barbie/Viva and Sheila during the first of many pool side lounging scenes. They (the bright swimwear) looked as if they were causing the surface they were being projected on to feel genuine anguish. Which is high praise if you think about all the tawdry material that's been screened on there over the years. (I'm looking in your direction 1980s era Amber Lynn.) This stylistic loudness permeates every single aspect of Viva. There's not a drab scene to be found, as every square inch has been meticulously crafted by someone well-versed in the aesthetics of perversion.
In charge of not only the film's direction, costume design and art direction, Anna Biller also shines as Barbie and her sexy alter ego. Utilizing the majestic fullness of her gorgeous frame, Miss Biller gives the conflicted character the sensuous edge she needs in order to transverse this trashy landscape in a convincing manner. My favourite acting quirk of Anna's was her predilection for raising her eyebrows in a way that made her look as if she is always intrigued by something.
The acting may be campy, the sets outlandish, and its tongue planted firmly where the cheek resides, but there's nothing insincere about the film's overflowing love for the culture, fashion, and spirit of the much maligned period. A unique masterpiece from an era of styleless banality, Viva is a stunning work from an artist with a singular, wonderfully depraved vision.
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