• Viva (Kino Lorber) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: August 24th, 2021.
    Director: Anna Biller
    Cast: Anna Biller, Jared Sanford, Bridget Brno, Chad England
    Year: 2007
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    Viva – Movie Review:

    Set in the Los Angeles of 1972, during the height of the sexual revolution, writer/director/actress Anna Biller’s 2007 film, Viva, is a beautifully photographed slice of domestic turmoil that tells the story of a woman named Barbie (Biller). When the movie begins, her husband, Rick (Chad England), has left on a business/ski trip. After posing for some racy photographs with her neighbor, Sheila (Bridget Brno), she decides to head out into the seedy, sexy underbelly of the city.

    With Sheila along to keep her company, Barbie changes her name to Viva and experiments with modeling, gay hairdressers, working as a call girl, lesbian sex, nudist camps and even an orgy as the pair discovers the wonders of their own newly liberated sexuality. Eventually, however, Viva’s escapades catch up with her and as enjoyable as all of this has been for her, moral dilemmas are never fun to deal with and her case is no exception at all…

    Owing a debt to the trashy soap opera sexploitation films of Joe Sarno, with some visual nods to Alex De Renzy’s Femmes De Sade (sans the defecation or bestiality!), Viva is a beautifully shot film that Biller made with an obvious eye for authenticity. Everything from the paintings on the walls of the various California homes used for the sets, to the wardrobe worn by the various cast members, right down to the magazines that they read, Viva definitely nails the vibe it set out to recreate. Made with tongue placed firmly in cheek, this loving nod to seventies sexploitation is shot with a classy eye for framing and features some truly gorgeous cinematography courtesy of C. Thomas Lewis (who has worked with Biller on a number of her short films). Even the organ-heavy soundtrack fits in perfectly with the world Biller and company have created with this picture.

    The humor in the film is, thankfully, pretty effective. From the ham-fisted dialogue that feels like it was lifted right out of an episode of The Young And The Restless, to running gags like Barbie’s need to relax with a smoke and a bubble bath, to more subtle touches like nod to the nudist camp films of the sixties made by the likes of Doris Wishman, Viva is quite a clever and funny movie underneath the slick visuals. The story is essentially built out of a string of clichés but that’s half the fun in it, and anyone remotely familiar with the types of pictures that Biller is paying homage to will find a lot to appreciate here.

    Musical numbers used throughout the film remind you a little bit of Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls while Metzger-esque melodrama keeps the story interesting enough to matter. Biller’s performance as Barbie has this wonderfully naïve and distant quality to it that contrasts perfectly with her characters’ sexual reawakening. It’s a blast watching her transform from a perky and unknowing housewife into a woman fully in control of her carnal wants and needs. The plot isn’t particularly heavy, it really just strings the characters along from one sexual escapade to another, but were it any deeper than that it would rise above the films it pays tribute to, and that would completely defeat the purpose. Thematically simple but visually complex, Viva is a rare successful attempt at playing off of the glories of trash cinema’s past from a filmmaker who obviously has a love and respect for the material she’s mining.

    Viva – Blu-ray Review:

    Viva comes to region free Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and the two hour feature taking up just over 35.1GBs of space on the 50GB disc. The picture quality here is excellent. Detail is very strong throughout and the way that the disc replicates the film’s intentionally garish color scheme is gorgeous. There are no problems with noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression and the picture is always clean and free or any noticeable dirt or debris while still retaining the expected amount of natural film grain that you’d want it to. The DVD that came out years ago looked really good for its time but this high definition presentation blows it out of the water.

    English audio is provided 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo with optional subtitles offered up in English SDH and French. The audio quality is also very good, the score in particular benefitting quite a bit from the boost in clarity offered by the lossless track. Everything is nicely balanced and free of any hiss or distortion – no complaints here at all!

    Extras start off with a new commentary from writer/director/star Anna Biller moderated by Jackson Stewart wherein they cover pretty much the entire history of the film. They cover the locations used for the shoot, set decoration that had to be done to get the period detail right, how Biller went about casting the film and why she cast mostly unknowns in the picture, the retro glam influences that are obviously a big part of the film's appeal (not just movies but pulp novels, vintage advertisements and more), the anxiety that she deals with that works its way into the movie, the insane color coordination noticeable throughout the movie, the use of music in the picture, how she pulled off the race track sequence and her experiences directing different cast members in the picture. The track also goes over the prep work required to get the movie going, how much she hated shooting the rape scene in the movie and why, shooting on an MGM back lot, some of themes that the picture deals with and quite a bit more, it's a very interesting conversation that sheds some welcome background detail on the making of the picture.

    Aside from the theatrical trailer for the film, Cult Epics has supplied a behind the scenes featurette that has some welcome commentary over top of it from Biller in which she talks about how she strived for accuracy in casting and in creating the sets and talks about all the work that went into creating Viva. It’s an interesting little featurette worth checking out.

    Rounding out the extras are a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options.

    Viva – The Final Word:

    Modern day manufactured camp rarely works, but Viva proves that it can be done and done well at that. The attention to detail in the sets and wardrobe really help create an authentic backdrop for the wryly humorous sexy soap opera hijinks to play off of. At the same time, Biller’s oddly distant lead performance and slick directorial efforts make for the tasting icing on this trashy treat! Kino’s Blu-ray gives the film a very nice presentation and the new commentary from Biller is genuinely interesting.

    Click on the images below for full sized Viva Blu-ray screen caps!