Opening 15 Mar 2012
The story is familiarly simple. Riva (Patsha Bay Mukuna) returns to his hometown with a truck full of gasoline which he has stolen from Cesar (Hoji Fortuna), his ex-boss. He sells it to friends for a nice profit. With the money, he roams the night clubs and falls in love with beautiful Nina (Manie Malone), the mistress of the town’s biggest mafia boss. At the same time, Cesar, on the lookout for his stolen property, arrives with his thugs. He bribes the help of the local lesbian police chief (Marlene Longage). Riva attempts to help Nina escape; he visits his parents one last time and they blame him for the death of their younger son. We know it’s the end when the last man falls.
Perhaps this is cliché, but it is so sweet and naïve that it could be a cartoon. It has all the ingredients of a get-rich-quick American gangster movie, but it seems more tongue-in-cheek, contrived, a caricature, all because it takes place in Kinshasa, the capitol of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, using local actors, many filmed for the first time. Director Djo Tunda wa Munga wrote the script, directed and produced Viva Riva, his first feature film, after several successful documentaries. His goal was to show Kinshasa in its state of recovery after 20 years of political chaos. He thought that it was the right time to make a film in this city; “people were self-confident, helpful pioneers, ready to roll and more than eager to try something new.” He envisioned a lively work of fiction, full of energy, and he definitely achieves this goal in spite of difficulties. For example, as in any good gangster movie, sex is part of the plot. However, in the Congo, nudeness and sex are banned from the screen. Djo Tunda overcame this challenge and said, “We hope that we could erase some old-fashioned impressions which the Western world might have of Africa and African art.” My first impression was that there is a fancy, expensive car parked in front of every shack.
This is a unique opportunity to see a rare film from Africa. Viva Riva is definitely worth your time; it is so serious about being just right that it is sometimes innocently humorous, but that is part of the enjoyment. You will like Anto (Jordan N’Tunga), the obligatory urchin who sells cigarettes on the street. There is a dig at religion with a corrupt priest and a nun who is a tart. Nora, also a high-class tart with a heart of gold, “prefers love over money,” and you almost believe it. And the African drums beat in the background. Viva Riva showed at the Toronto film festival and the 2011 Berlinale and won the MTA award as best African film. (Becky Tan)