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Viva

Year: 2007
Production Co: Anna Biller Productions
Director: Anna Biller
Producer: Anna Biller
Writer: Anna Biller
Cast: Anna Biller

I knew nothing about one-woman movie engine Anna Biller before watching this film, but I've since read a couple of her blog posts and she's actually whip smart and articulate about feminist issues, which changed the way I related to my memories of it somewhat. I don't think it can be viewed in a vacuum because if you do, I think you miss a little bit of the intent.

You might just consider it an homage to a movement of bad films from the era depicted, but it's actually a very well made bad film that contains an overarching spirit of feminist critique, none of which might be very obvious when you're watching it.

Writer/director/star/editor/production designer Biller stars as Barbi, a suburban housewife in early 70s LA who drinks martinis, walks around an incredibly detailed 60s suburban enclave in bikinis, skimpy nighties and high heels and devotes herself to her frequently travelling businessman husband Rick.

They live next door to the uninhibited Sheila and her flirtatious actor husband Mark, and whenever Rick's away for work Barbi goes over to sit in the pool, drink, smoke and try to fend off the sleazy Mark's advances.

But she's getting tired of Rick constantly travelling for work, and when he tells her he's going to go away again, this time for a month or more, Barbi's had enough. She suspects he's got another woman, and she's had enough of sitting at home playing the good little wife for a man who's never there.

While her and Sheila are out partying they're approached by a brothel owner who suggests they'll make a great living working for her as they're both so beautiful and free spirited, and Barbi can't hide her fascination with the idea of being wanted by countless men and making her own living doing so.

She reinvents herself as Viva and engages on a sexual odyssey of discovery, hobnobbing with bohemian types, dangling various men on a string and disappearing down a rabbit hole of erotic awakening before she realises how much danger she's really in.

It's a bit of a paradox. As a 90 minute movie it's not the most interesting story because all the cinematic arts – however well crafted – get a bit old quickly, and the story isn't anything you haven't seen before in any number of guises.

But it's a genuine work of art because Biller has built and dressed a very authentic homage to the sexploitation kitchen sink dramas in the Jacqueline Susann and Russ Meyer vein. The time and place she depicts is all strong, solid colours, plastic furniture, cigarette smoke, big hair, shag rugs and aesthetic hallmarks not from the real world but the films and art it inspired in the era, much of it shot like the two camera studio sitcom style of the day.

As a writer and director she's also created dialogue that's as ropey as anything that came out of the cheap sexploitation movement, and you only have to watch the stiffly trite, over-ripe way the actors deliver it (Mark's overly bombastic laughter is a classic example) to realise Biller knows exactly what she's doing.

But the real value is in the feminist bona fides. Even though it's never obvious on screen while it's playing out, the film as a cultural artefact is commenting on the lot of women in late 60s suburban America when the economy was good and everyone knew their place. There was little choice for women to pursue except the devoted housewife or the sex kitten, and the demand by society was often for them to be both at once.

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