Since 1987 with La vie est belle (1987) directed by Ngangura Dieudonné Mweze and Benoît Lam, the Congo-Kinshasa has been considered as a country without cinema. For his feature film debut, Djo Tunda Wa Munga achieves the double task of beginning the renaissance of his national cinema (hopefully) and delivering an exciting thriller influenced by Quentin Tarantino.
The plot is quite universal. The hero Riva is a handsome bad-guy who comes back home after 10 years in Angola. Of course, he carries with him a lot of money brought by a stolen truckload of gasoline and plans to resell it in Kinshasa, where fuel is lacking. Riva is not a cautious gangster. While his former boss from Angola is looking for him and his stolen truck, Riva is partying and spending all the money he got in nightclubs, brothels or by helping a beggar child who soon becomes his best accomplice. During these hot nights, he falls in love with Nora who happens to be the mistress of a local crime lord. Riva seduces Nora and is, of course, soon pursued by her boyfriend’s men.
Meanwhile, the angry Angolans, who want their gasoline back, organize themselves to find Riva. Cesar, the boss, blackmails a sentimental army commander. Soon, she uses her network of whores and priests in Kinshasa to help them.
The main force of Viva Riva comes from its charming characters. Firstly, Cesar, the Angolan boss, is a dandy who speaks French with a seductive Portuguese accent, but hides an extreme violence. Riva is as fast as he is stupid and is helped by his best friend, a driving schoolteacher, married to a hot-tempered woman and father of two children. Nora is a beautiful and smart woman married to a stupid gangster. There is also a gallery of nice whores, an old mama pimp, a villainous priest and zealous police officers.
But the main character of the movie remains Kinshasa and its complexity. The city is seen as chaotic as well as attractive. For example, women could dance half naked in the streets all night long, but they should never trust a guy, especially if he is a priest. In this context, the filmmaker allows himself to show violence and sex without censorship, as part of the energy of the city. Yet, the black humour surrounding the whole movie (in which you can find the influence of Tarantino) puts some virtuous values in this nasty atmosphere, since it shows the gangsters in their glory days as well as their stupidity.
Viva Riva- DjoTundawaMunga – 98’ – 2012