VIVA RIVA!

Director: Djo Tunda Wa Munga
Year: 2010
Country: Congo-Kinshasa

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is yet another country where film production is extremely rare. Political instability and a lack of infrastructure present significant obstacles to aspiring Congolese filmmakers, so it’s remarkable that a film as polished and enjoyable as Viva Rivawas ever made there – especially by a first-time director. The visual flair and high production values are pure Hollywood, and they immediately set this film apart from the smaller-scale African films I’ve blogged about so far.

Riva is a charismatic and roguish criminal from Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC. Kinshasa is in the middle of a crippling oil shortage, and the film opens with Riva smuggling a shipment of stolen oil across the border from Angola.

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Riva returns to the Congo with a fortune in stolen oil.

Riva lives for the moment, and has no grand plan for the money he makes from the oil. After giving a share to his elderly parents, he pockets the rest and heads out in search of all the debauchery that Kinshasa’s nightlife has to offer. Swept up in a whirlwind of clubs, booze, and women, the following scenes give a depiction of the Congo that you won’t find anywhere else: seductively vibrant, full of life, and pulsing with relentless energy.

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Riva meets Nora in a nightclub while celebrating his newfound wealth.

For a glorious night, Riva has Kinshasa in the palm of his hand. But his sense of invincibility is swiftly shattered. He impulsively has a fling with Nora, the girlfriend of a local gangster, and finds himself a highly wanted man. And to make matters worse, the Angolan crime lord from whom he stole the oil has followed him home, and is coming to collect his due.

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César – the sinister Angolan gangster on Riva’s trail.

Viva Riva! has been compared to City of God, which I wrote about as my entry for Brazil. Both films are frenetic crime dramas set in the seedy underworld of an impoverished city. However, I was reminded more of my entry for CameroonThe Bloodettes. Like Viva Riva!, that film was set amidst a vibrant, flashy nightlife that gave the plot a furious rhythm and unforgettable atmosphere, and featured impulsive, opportunistic heroes who found themselves desperate and on the run after a crime gone wrong. Viva Riva! is a solid, well-crafted thriller that also showcases a little-seen corner of the globe, and for that it gets my recommendation.

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