In 10 Words or Less
Travel back to the glorious, sexy, silly '70s
Loves: Anna Biller, Perfect craftsmanship
Likes: Parody, Explotation films
Dislikes: 70s fashion
Hates: Not being around to enjoy the '70s
Bambi (Anna Biller) lives the life of your average suburban Los Angeles wife in the 1970s, working as a secretary, taking care of her husband Rick, keeping a fine house and drinking her spare time away. But under the influence of her independent, Playboy-reading, blonde-bombshell pal Sheila, she starts getting frustrated at the lack of attention from her business-focused hubby. Soon the two girls are on their own in a brand new world, wearing very little and chasing good times as Viva (Bambi) and Candy (Sheila.)
The world Bambi and her friend explore is not a kind one to her, as there's someone trying to take advantage of her at every turn, including neighbors, bosses, artists, casting agents and anyone else who catches a glance of her, starting with a madam who draws her in the moment she decides to be liberated. As a result, she's miserable more oft than not, as she gets sexually harassed, drugged, and raped, along with several more traditional seductions (and some less-so, like a oddball orgy.)
To be honest, the story in this movie isn't very interesting, floating from scene to scene without much in the way of plot progression, character development or transition between moments in Viva's new sexually-adventurous life. But that seems like the whole point, as the movie is an excellent tribute to the classic exploitation films of the 1970s, sporting a spot-on recreation of the look and tone of that era's movies, thanks mainly to Biller's vision. You could copy this to VHS, hand it to anyone and tell them it's an old movie from 1972, and they wouldn't question it. From the clothing to the sets to the props, music and lighting, it's basically a perfect re-creation.
That's especially true for Biller's performance, which is just incredible, from the look on her face (which is somewhere between a sneer and smelling something bad) to her delivery, which is so flat it's hilarious. Teaming her exotic looks and sexy body, she's the perfect sexploitation lead, wielding her heavily made up eyelids and arched eyebrows to make every line ridiculous. The rest of the cast is right in line with her in selling the time warp, be it the over-the-top mincing hairdresser or the nudist hippie. There's such a unified sense of purpose that everything, including the bizarre musical numbers and unusual animation sequence, comes together to overcome a general lack of compelling story to make a must-watch experience.
Though this is the unrated version of the film, it's hard to tell what might be the difference from the R-rated cut. Sure, there's a healthy dose of full-frontal nudity (both female and male) but it's all "happy" nudity, and the sex is hardly graphic, so one wonders where the R-line was crossed. Unless flaccid junk, free-swinging natural breasts and earth-momma muffs offend you, this movie could practically be considered innocent
There are two versions of Viva available on DVD, an R-rated edition and an unrated one. We're reviewing the unrated version, which arrives in a clear, single-width keepcase with a double-sided cover (featuring a sexy nude photo spread if Viva on the inside) and a glossy slipcover with the poster art. The disc has an animated, anamorphic widescreen menu with options to watch the film, select scenes and check out the extras. There are no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this film looks tremendous, probably the only chink in its '70s armor, since you've never seen a movie from that era look so good. The color, probably the key to the false time frame, is vibrant throughtout, though the reds do vibrate a bit (possibly on purpose.) There's not a spot of dirt or damage to be found in this movie, and no compression artifacts to contend with.
As you might expect from a film attempting to recreate the feel of a '70s movie, the sound isn't an extravagant experience, though the Dolby Digital 2.0 track offers up clear dialogue and a strong balanced presentation of the film's fantastic score, full of the funky music exploitation films are known for.
There are a few pieces of bonus material included, starting with a slideshow of stills from the film, set to a piece from the movie's excellent score. In some ways, it's like a mini version of the film. There's also a short collection of behind-the-scene footage, with commentary from Biller, who talks a bit about the production effort, and dealing with a particularly shy co-star, in a situation most people will find ridiculous, considering Biller's willingness to expose herself.
There's also a theatrical trailer, which is in the style of the old previews, and gives you a good idea of what the movie is all about.
The Bottom Line
Viva is, without a doubt, the work of an artist, as Anna Biller has crafted a painstakingly brilliant replica of a '70s sexploitation film, with all the pros and cons in place. There may be some greater message in here about feminism and sexuality, but if there is, I missed it, and it didn't bother me. The DVD offers a high-quality presentation, but the extras are a bit meagre. If you appreciate technical mastery or '70s aesthetics, this movie is a fascinating treat, even though, as a result of its successes, as a genuine "movie," it's not so great.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.