Lashings of sex and violence distinguish the crime thriller Viva Riva! a story set in the mean streets of Kinshasa.
Winner of MTV's best African movie award and six Africa Movie Academy Awards this year, Viva Riva! centres on a gasoline thief who has come home to the Congo after a 10-year absence. The city of Kinshasa is starved for fuel, and Riva (Patsha Bay) just happens to have come home after stealing a truckload of gas from his Angolan gangster boss.
Flush with cash and eager to party, the cheerful Riva rounds up a childhood friend and proceeds to search out wine, women and song. So to speak.
Before too long he sees Nora (Manie Malone), a beautiful woman who happens to be a gangster's girlfriend. Riva is not even remotely afraid of the boyfriend or any of the other criminals who cross his path.
Those criminals include his Angolan boss, Cesar (Hoji Fortuna), an elegant killer who spills a lot of blood without getting any on his pristine white suit. Cesar and his gang of thugs have come to Kinshasa to get their fuel back and punish Riva, but first they'll have to find him. That search brings several characters into the story -- including a tough female army commander, a priest, various lawmakers and a lesbian prostitute snitch -- all keen on survival and each more corrupt than the last. While Riva trails the beautiful Nora, a pack of bad guys trails him, bribing and killing with abandon as they go. The bodies begin to pile up.
Viva Riva! is a tale of murder and vengeance, but the film is almost comic in its view of the endless corruption that rules the city. Under the action there is sharp political commentary; from Nora's sarcastic remarks about history to the power outages, the crumbling buildings and the Angolans' cruel insults about the city, Viva Riva! has a lot to say about the complexities of life in the Congo.
But filmmaker Djo Tunda Wa Munga seems to admire his fellow Congolese. None of the characters is entirely villainous. A brothel owner and a street urchin are admirable, while Riva's law-abiding parents are quick to judge and strangely negative in their 'goodness'. On a moral level, nothing here is black and white.
This is the first movie produced in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo in a very long time. What Munga has to say in this feature directorial debut is delivered via a quick-paced, gritty crime story that is both entertaining and enlightening. The film played in Toronto first at TIFF last year.
Viva Riva! is in French and Lingala, with English subtitles.
This film is rated 18A