Viva Riva! (2010)
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Sounds like your average Hollywood gangster flick. But this is not Hollywood, but Kinshasa. The loot is not cocaine, but petrol. The location is not downtown LA or the Bronx, but a Congolese slum. The foreign gang leader is not Mexican, but Angolan. The hero doesn't drive a flashy car, but a battered wreck with 'auto école' written on it.
Viva Riva is an unusual combination: a classic gangster movie, set in one of the poorest countries in the world. The result is an interesting film, that can appeal to thriller-fans and to art-house movie lovers.
The movie has nothing of a classic third world film. Poverty or inequality is not an issue. It's all about fast-paced action. At the same time, it's very authentic. The language is Lingala, the slums are real, the music is Congolese. No artificial ingredients to please a western public.
The plot has a lot of noir-elements. The femme fatale, leading the hero to his downfall; a labyrinthine plot, with no-one trusting no-one; and the seedy bars and brothels where a lot of the action takes place.
However, aside from the location filming in Kinshasa, I saw very little to differentiate this film from well-produced mass-market Hollywood product. Or rather, it seemed to me a slick American exploitation film on steroids. Much of the "fun" of watching it is that it is so comically extreme and audacious that you wonder whether it could pass MPAA muster and qualify for an R, rather than a NC-17 rating.
This movie has everything you could hope for from a salacious "chicks in prison" movie: explicit sex, explicit violence, gratuitous lesbian subplot, and a scene of a sexy woman urinating. What really puts it over the top, though, even by American standards, is the misogyny. At the beginning of the film, Riva's buddy J.M. is depicted as a family man with wife and children. Soon, however, is so horny that he reluctantly decides to do an "ugly" whore. "Shut up bitch!," he yells, when the whore asks for more money because the sex is so rough. Later, he beats up his wife in front of his kids and declares he is abandoning the family. Afterwards, there is another scene with the wife so we can enjoy her battered face.
During the Q & A after the movie, one of the stars said he thought the director wanted the violence to show the nihilistic state of rage that currently prevails in Kinshasa. A producer stated that the film's final scene with the kid actually represents a hopeful sign for the future. See whether you think this film bodes well for the future of African cinema.
The movie's narrative on the other hand is pretty classic. Small time hustler and thief returns to hometown and promptly falls for gangster's girl. Gangster notices and gets upset. Meanwhile the thief is being tracked down and targeted for revenge by the guys he stole from...and those guys are not playing around, they're way more dangerous then the flashy gangster. Film works really well to a point. That point would be the last twenty or so minutes (maybe even ten minutes) where the plot threads that have been forming the whole time finally come together but they don't exactly merge the way you'd like them to. I don't know if it works exactly but i enjoyed it more or less even if its not a plot you haven't already seen in many a film before.
Film is worth checking out tho if you're a fan of hard boiled crime stories or classic gangster cinema (by which i mean movies where the dames talk tougher then the anti heroes) Film does end kind of abruptly--there;s a big shootout (of course) but what happens at the end should've been made either more explicit or more final. Its interesting that i saw this not long before i saw "submarine" because while the two films have absolutely nothing in common--they both sort of suffer in comparison to other films in their genre but are both so so pretty to watch on their own that they almost make up for it in set design alone.
In Djo Tunda Wa Munga's Kinshasa every man, woman and child is for themselves. It's a place where solidarity and gain are, if not synonymous so inseparable, and likely to shift at any time. A place where everyone is doing what they can to carve out a unique space within which to operate and make enough money to survive, maybe even thrive.
One of the hardest working hustlers is Riva (Patsha Bay), who has returned to his hometown Kinshasa with a truckload of petrol that he's planning to sell. During a night out he meets Nora (Manie Malone) and falls in love with her (or decides he wants to own her, a distinction that's hard to make in a world where the line between purchasing and physical desire is severely blurred). Before becoming obscenely rich and winning Nora's heart (which is obviously not for free), Riva first has to deal with César (Hoji Fortuna), the crook from whom he stole the petrol, and Azor (Diplome Amekindra), Nora's gangster boyfriend, who isn't prepared to let go of her, more out of a sense of ownership than love .
One could maybe be forgiven for being tempted to regard both Nora and Riva as just entertaining comic books heroes inhabiting a surreal world, but not for ignoring that Munga is reminding us that whatever we do, and whomever we have become, we are still someone's daughter or son, thus offering his audience the opportunity to engage with this sexy existential action in all its complexity. Similarly, writing off Nora as a passive black Barbie and the enemy of emancipated women would be a rather uninspired interpretation of a film that, like the brilliant TV-series The Wire and Deadwood, is a poignant and vibrant comment on capitalism gone haywire. Viva Riva! could actually not have been released at a better time, when countries are crumbling and thousands of New Yorkers and others are marching against a rampant capitalist system that is leaving millions of wounded along its way.
Amidst news about a country in flames, where people in general and women in particular are falling victim to unparalleled cruelties, it's not always easy to remember that people still dance, laugh, make love and cheat on each other in Kinshasa. And out of misguided concern for those who suffer, we might easily be fooled into denying the existence of every-day concerns in the DRC and other troubled corners of the world. What we should remember however, is that the day we forget that the Congolese are individuals that cannot be defined just by the circumstances they live under, that's the day when we'll forget about our shared humanity, and when we'll stop caring about a people too often portrayed as one-dimensional victims or villains without a past and no real hope of a future.Too proud a Congolese, Djo Munga won't allow us to forget or reduce his people, and too accomplished a filmmaker, he's incapable of not reminding us in the most exciting and entertaining way.
(This and other movie reviews are available on the blog IN THE WORDS OF KATARINA)
The plot moves well with good screen chemistry for the actors. The sex scenes are among the best I've seen anywhere and the joy Riva brings to the screen and those he interacts with is refreshing.
There is the ultimate feeling of Grecian tragedy. You know deep down things won't end well. His death at the end is one of the most heroic and carefree ways of going I've yet seen.
The movie showcases the best of Africa (unbridled enthusiasm and live-a-day-at-a-time philosophy) alongside the worst (lust for power and resources, invasive western influence, etc)
It's a wonderful movie in my opinion. I would have awarded it more than a seven but for the originality bit. It's stereotypical but the tale is well told. Kudos to this Director.
6.1 / 10 stars
--Zoooma, a Kat Pirate Screener