Pour yourself a Pink Pussycat, put on your go-go boots and plunge into vibrant Planet Viva! In VIVA (USA, 2007), a delightful retro-styled sex comedy inspired by Seventies-era Playboy magazines and advertisements, filmmaker Anna Biller appropriates the sexploitation genre for her own means, using it to tell the humorous story of a woman’s journey through the jungle of the sexual revolution. Biller designed and made the costumes for the film, and created all the sets – 34 in total – and these are splendidly colourful and lavishly excessive. The film was made like an installation in a gallery, each set meticulously put together over the course of many months.
Taking her cues from the torrid and tawdry tales told in the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Radley Metzger, and Andy Milligan, Biller starts off in sunny suburbia, where we see how her protagonist, housewife Barbi Smith, is discovering there’s more to life than mixing hubby Rick’s martinis and cooking up canapés.
After Barbi and Rick have a marital spat, Barbi splits to find herself – and a bit of fun. The film follows Barbi as she transforms from her square suburban self into the glamorous Viva and trips through the bizarre world that was the 1970’s – swinging singles, hippie fests, nudist colonies and psychedelic orgies: you name it, she’s been there in her quest for freedom. After all’s been said and done, she finds out who she is and what she really wants, and ultimately returns to Rick and the safety of the suburbs. But things have changed, and she’s no longer the housewife she was. By the end of the film, Barbi and her girlfriend, the kitten-like neighbor Sheila, are auditioning for a new burlesque musical – with their approving husbands looking on – and Barbi’s fully enjoying her new-found and hard-won liberation and self-confidence.