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Review: Viva

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 4, 2008 6:05PM

Los Angeles, 1972: Barbi is a bored suburban housewife, frustrated that her blond stud of a husband Rick seems to care more about working at the office than spending time with her. So she reinvents herself as Viva, call girl extraordinaire, and soon finds herself in the middle of some far out adventures, pursued by a nudist hippie, a narcissistic artist, a cynical theatre director and her best friend Sheila's philandering husband. Can she find happiness and fulfillment in the middle of the sexual revolution?

2008_9_3viva.jpg On the surface it sounds just like actual early 70's softcore sexploitation fare, but in fact it was made last year. Writer, director and star Anna Biller has made a movie that so closely resembles the type of movie it's satirizing that Viva feels completely authentic; so authentic in fact that it feels too sincere to be fully camp.

But that's part of its unsettling charms. There's copious nudity of the R-rated kind, including a silly orgy, and dialog like, "I want to be called Viva, which in Italy means 'to live.' Because that's what I want to do now - to live!" Is Biller being totally on the level or is it all a parody? Not being able to tell is part of the fun. The production design, overstuffed with period details like lime-green wallpaper, paisley shirts, and hirsute men, one-ups Polyester in its meticulous tackiness. Another plus is the soundtrack, consisting of early 70's lounge and tracks by bossa nova organist Walter Wanderley. A movie this enjoyable is better than the real thing ever was.

Viva opens at the Siskel Film Center on Friday for a week-long run.