Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fantasia 2007: Viva

The 2011 Fantasia Film Festival announces their line-up this week - July 7th to be exact. Fantasia, is of course, my favourite film festival in the whole world... other than the one that pays my salary obviously.

To mark their schedule announcement, I will try to put up a post a day this week about Fantasia, continuing today with some thoughts of my favourite discoveries from the festival...

Or at least that was the plan until technology ate about 10, 000 words of my favourite discoveries at Fantasia, so instead, here is an unpublished review of a film from Fantasia 2007.


Viva (2007) USA imdb Written and Directed by Anna Biller

I tend to be suspicious of the auteur label. My personal feeling is that film is a collaborative medium and the director's role is important, but not as much as some of the director's believe. 
Viva Poster

On the other hand, sometimes the shoe fits:

Anna Biller wrote, directed, produced, starred, designed the sets, designed the costumes, drew the obligatory animated hallucination sequence, wrote the music and played the organ on the soundtrack of Viva. It's not quite a one woman band, but close enough for government work.

The film is a loving tribute to and biting satire of the "nudie cuties" of Russ Meyer et al. It follows two 1970's Los Angeles suburban housewives brunette Barbi/Viva (Anna Biller) and blond Sheila/Candy (Bridget Brno) who, after being abandoned by their idiot husbands, decide to take advantage of the Sexual Revolution. In the process of following Barbi's journey, the film asks us what good all that freedom was if all it led to was women being used as sexual objects and in the case of Barbi being repeatedly drugged and raped.

The film has a campy veneer. Everything is on high volume. The sets are overly colourful, the costumes are exaggerated, the acting is so over the top that it plays not just to the cheap sets but to someone standing in the street outside the theatre. That said, unlike the films of the era, underneath the [Gizmo] Bright Light! Bright Light! [/Gizmo] sheen, there is real emotional depth and psychological complexity to the characters.

Theatrical Viva Poster
As an example, when Barbi tries to get a job as a model after being fired by her breast fondling boss for being married, and she is drugged by her gay hair-stylist so that he can seduce his hunky next-door neighbour who is deeply in lust with Barbi (it is that kind of film) Deep breath. Where was I? Right, so when Barbi gets back late after these adventures, her husband, who is never home, has landed himself in the hospital, because Barbi was not there waiting at the doorstep with a martini and slippers. Barbi's reaction is to take a bath, reapply her make-up and then get dressed as a nurse to visit him in the hospital.

Anna Biller described this behaviour after the movie as "passive-aggressive". I would go with borderline psychotic personally. Never mind the delay in rushing to her jerk husband's bed-side. Never mind getting dressed as a nurse to "nurse" your husband back to health. Who in the blue hell actually keeps a nurse outfit in the house for just such an occasion?

Admittedly, this does fulfill one of the tropes of the genre and Barbi getting dressed as a nurse is one of the most deeply erotic moments of the film in a way that her getting undressed later on is not. Your mileage may of course vary.

I should also mention that Anna did mount a spirited defence of her on-screen husband Rick (Chad England) 's behaviour during the Q&A after the film. She is right that in comparison to the other men in the film, Rick comes off pretty well. Great, he's not a sexually harassing rapist, he is just a neglectful idiot. I don't like him. No, Sam, I don't. Even if him being a neglectful idiot is the engine that drives Barbi becoming Viva and embarking on her adventures. In fact, given how badly those adventures turn out, I hate him even more.

(There may in fact be some jealousy involved here. I recognize that being jealous of a fictional character is borderline insane. I am trying to deal.)

I think the poster to the Justine mentioned
It should be said that there were nudie cuties of the time that had an equally pessimistic outlook on these journeys of sexual awakening. I seem to recall a British one of the period perhaps based around Candide in which the female star bounces from one sexual encounter to another while somehow clinging to her virginity before being rescued by a member of the British nobility who promptly deflowers and (I think) kills her on a beach.

[Edit] I may be thinking of an adaptation of De Sade's Justine come to think about it. [/Edit]

Bambi/Viva's fate is much less dire although the film makes good use of the striking irony that Viva's most powerful moment - her musical roar - takes place during an orgy right after she has been drugged and just before the proto-Roofies kick in so that her Bohemian artist boyfriend can take what will not be given freely. It also subverts Bambi's one pleasant sexual encounter of her quest, her (genre required) lesbian encounter with Agnes (Robbin Ryan) as Agnes stands back and watches as Bambi gets plowed over.

Her Musical Roar

Anna said that the Artist rapist was based on the rapist from Hitchcock's Frenzy. Personally, he reminded me of Micky Dolenz from The Monkees only evil. (Or is Micky Dolenz EVIL~ too? Can we get a ruling?)
It's not the artist that was based on the Frenzy character! It was the red-headed, older man who came to the apartment to rape Barbi. The artist was kind of a rocker, sort of Micky Dolenz, you're right! I was more thinking Mick Jagger, though.
-Anna Biller
The film benefits from the fact that virtually all of the women in the film, especially the leads, are naturally beautiful and look like they have actually had a sandwich in the last month, rather than the lettuce and watercress eating stick thin waifs that Hollywood normally gives us.

The film took four and a half years to make and it was obviously a labour of love. If I had to criticize it it would be based on the fact that at 120 minutes, the film could have probably have done with a ruthless edit by someone who was not as emotionally involved with the footage. On the other hand, while the film may meander a bit, the films that it is paying tribute to had a tendency to do that too, so I guess I can give the film a pass for being too faithful to its source material.

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