"The success of writer/director/star Anna Biller's film hinges on her own charismatic performance, and she just about manages to pull it off."

"There's never been a better time to be a man," says actor Mark (Jared Sanford) halfway through this tribute to Seventies sexploitation. "Enjoy it - it will never happen again."

Mark is an avid reader of Playboy, and it's the Playboy lifestyle that this film explores, a world viewed through rose-tinted spectacles, where women seem to be instinctively devoted to providing male pleasure. Mark and his neighbour Rick (Chad England) both have glamorous, loving wives who cook their food, tie their shoelaces and pose for them, bikini-clad, by the poolside. But unknown to the men, both these women are feeling frustrated, and in the husbands' absence they decide to explore what other things the world might have to offer them. For Mark's wife Sheila that means dallying with aging millionaires who'll buy her diamonds. For Rick's wife Barbi it means undertaking a series of spectacular sexual adventures - and changing her name to Viva.

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"I'm a liberated woman," says Viva, "and I'll decide when I want you to touch me." But liberation is more complicated than she expected, and her journey through Seventies counterculture, from seedy brothel to hippie nudist colonies, the avant-garde art scene and exotic orgies, provides plenty of surprises. Along the way she is hideously exploited - as she was by her boss in her days as a secretary - yet she somehow emerges unscathed with a kind of unassailable innocence about her, and in so doing makes an indelible expression on everyone she meets. The success of writer/director/star Anna Biller's film hinges on her own charismatic performance, and she just about manages to pull it off.

She's got tough competition. Viva is a loving tribute to the sexploitation films of the Seventies, but in order to get away with its parody it has to match them for imagination, vivid visuals, and personality. In places it suffers from imitating the style too well - the awkward cutting, forced laughter and inappropriate expressions are funny at first but gradually lose their satirical edge and just look bad. Everything here is perfectly judged, from the awful costumes to the constant drinking and the deliberate avoidance of overly-pretty stars, but it has to be said that this will be wasted on most viewers. Does Viva work if one doesn't get the joke?

By and large, yes. It's still full of wonderful characters, there's the occasional quip reminiscent of Russ Meyer at his finest, and the sets are spectacular. Whilst the film suffers from slow patches (again, entirely in keeping), it is generally energetic, funny and engaging. It also manages to make a few sharp points about the way women can be treated in the real world. There's plenty of gratuitous nudity and a lot of fancy lingerie, but this is still a film that puts female characters and female desire at the heart of the action. Ultimately, what's fascinating about Viva as a character is that she's the only person onscreen who behaves like a complete human being.

For fans of the sexploitation genre, this is a real treat. Others may do better to look up some of the old classics, but will still find plenty to enjoy here.

Reviewed on: 13 May 2009
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A frustrated housewife decides to explore her wild side in this sexploitation spoof.
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James Benefield **

Director: Anna Biller

Writer: Anna Biller

Starring: Anna Biller, Bridget Brno, Jared Sanford, Marcus DeAnda, Chad England, John Klemantaski, Paolo Davanzo, Robbin Ryan

Year: 2007

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: US


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