Viva Riva! – Film Review

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One of the most radiant, sexy and exciting films out of Africa and it’s from The DRC. Winner of MTV’s best African movie award and six Africa Movie Academy Awards, Viva Riva! tells the story of Riva (Patsha Bay), a slick smooth-talking hood, who after 10 years in Angola, comes home to Kinshasa with a stolen truckload of fuel which he hopes to sell for a small fortune. The fun-loving-live-for-today Riva stashes the loot and as he waits for prices to go up, he and his sidekick J.M. (Alex Herabo) troll the streets of Kinshasa for booze and women.

Unknown to Riva, his Angolan associate and owner of the stolen fuel Cesar (Hoji Fortuna) has trailed him to Kinshasa. He is a ruthless mobster and will stop at nothing to get back what is his. Thriving in Kinshasa’s lawless streets, he blackmails the help of a local military commander (Marlene Longage) to help him track down Riva and tears through the city leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

Riva meanwhile finds himself beguiled by Nora (Manie Malone), the red-headed, gun moll of a local mobster Azor (Diplome Amekindra). Riva is enchanted by Nora to such extents that he goes to lengths any sane man would consider suicidal to make her his own. Nora on the other hand is an enigma, a siren whose intentions are not always clear but who proves to be more than just a pretty face.

Azor, understandably, does not welcome the attention Riva gives Nora. He also comes after Riva and manages to get himself entangled in the fuel caper. All these elements and characters including a corrupt priest, streetwise kid, heart of gold madam and lesbian prostitute snitch play their part and converge as the film shuttles to its explosive conclusion.

Written and directed by Djo Tunda Wa Munga, the film is full of brutal violence and is unabashed in its explicit depiction of sex and sexuality, something not expected in an African film. Munga shows us a side of Kinshasa and indeed many African cities that exists but rarely shown or acknowledged. He also keeps the film traveling at a fast pace with the story taking us around Kinshasa’s colourful and radiant streets.

Technically the film has a few progression issues with its quick-cut editing and parallel storylines. This however doesn’t take away from its greatest strength which is the characters. The characters are well rounded and they say funny poignant things in French and the local Lingala. The actors are exceptionally good considering they are mostly first timers. Standouts include Malone who manages to enchant the audience in every scene and also be sympathetic . Bay also shows his mettle especially in a scene confrontating his parents which proves to be the emotional climax of the film.

While the script is good and filled with local flavor it does have a rather weak ending but this take away little from the good work Munga had done. In his first feature length film, he brings the streets of Kinshasa to life and fills it with fun & interesting characters whose plight we are fully engaged in. A wild and seductive crime thriller, Viva Riva! is a promising step for Congolese and indeed African cinema. One hopes that someday people will look back and say that this film was the spark that ignited an explosion of similar films on the African scene.

“VIVA RIVA!”

Showing at the Village Market from 7th October (Adults Only)

 

 

 

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