VIVA: a review from IFFR 2007
Story synopsis: when Barbi is abandoned by her husband, she starts exploring the wild 70's with her friend. They start working for a callgirl agency, where Barbi transforms herself into the sexy Viva and goes in search for a perfect lover. Oo-err!
The IFFR website called this the most relaxed film at this year's festival. The trouble with such descriptions is that they can be either a recommendation or a warning, as relaxed can be taken as "laid-back" but may also be a euphemism for "mindnumbingly boring".
Both a condemnation and an homage to the sex films of the early seventies, "Viva" is the brainchild of Anna Biller. She's in the credits as producer, director, star, writer, costume designer, set designer, editor, and she's also responsible for the music. Any praise or blame for this film can be placed at her feet.
And I have both (praise and blame, not her feet), for while I've never heard so much chuckling and giggling in the audience as during the first hour, the second one has some serious pacing problems which drag the movie down.
In the early ninetees The Netherlands had several new television stations, each wrestling the others (including the public government-paid stations) for viewers. Softcore pornography was seen as a strategic selling factor and all commercial channels began to air their own "erotic" programs, including late night movies. While a lot of these were recent American products, occasionally these channels would show older stuff like the infamous "Tiroler" movies from seventies Germany and Austria. So for a relatively short period (the blossoming internet blew all of this out of the water) the general channelzapping viewer was liable to be exposed to a lot of eh... classics.
These films were often called women-unfriendly, and with cause. While the sex scenes are often not too demeaning (apart from the often featured date-rapes), it's often the stuff between them that is really offensive. Women in these pictures are often portrayed as being powerless and totally depending on men. The "heroines" are kept as pets and treated like walking furniture. I have seen a sampling of these movies and can honestly say they can be labelled as utter trash.
So Anna Biller had the brilliant idea of making exactly such a movie today but playing in the seventies, and recreate every offending and/or hilarious detail which can be found in the originals. Bad acting, politically incorrect stereotypes, outrageous clothes and hairstyles, cringeworthy dialogue and jokes: "Viva" contains it in loads, and all of it on purpose.
The effect is very funny indeed. It's very hard to believe a film like this could once have been taken at face value as everything you see is now so... wrong! Just when you think it can't get any worse, a new character will appear which is worse than all that has gone before (just wait until you see the homosexual hairdresser).
Taking old advertisements in magazines as a source, Anna Biller has painstakingly dressed every set in 70's (absurdly bright) colors, forms and trinkets. Most of the costumes were designed and made by herself to fit the look of these sets. The result is very praiseworthy and each shot in the movie can be framed as a poster. The look of this film is spot on, camp doesn't begin to describe it. The men are skinny or ugly and the women are all pleasantly plump as this is supposed to take place before the health-and-fitness craze. Story and acting are decidedly awful as it's meant to be. Strangely enough some people can do bad acting better than others, so extra credit to Bridget Brno (no typo) and Marcus DeAnda (again, no typo) who act most like real seventies softcore-actors.
The audience I saw this with had a very good time with it and you get the impression that the cast and crew had even more fun making it. Maybe too much fun though, because with 120 minutes this movie seems at least a quarter too long. Difficult as it is to stop grinning through the first hour as you keep hearing obnoxious oneliners, after the halfway mark you've sort of seen the joke and "Viva" starts to drag. Unfortunately it's at this point that Anna shows us her affinity for musicals, giving us four songs in a row. This stops the movie dead in its tracks and in our screening several people walked out at this point ("No Mercy For the Nude"). To be honest it was very late in the evening and almost everyone was dead-tired, so that might have something to do with it seeing as how this didn't happen at the other screenings.
Anna also puts in a real softcore sexscene near the end, something carefully avoided so far. According to her it's a tribute to Radley Metzger but it seems out of place, as if the rest wasn't meant tongue-in-cheek. These things mar an otherwise hilarious film.
Anna Biller was kind enough to give Rotterdam the world premiere. She presented her movie in person and was enthousiastic and likable.
Unfortunately none of the pics I took do her justice, but if you look at her on Viva's website which also features the trailer be assured she looks just like that in real life (but with more clothes on).