‘Viva Riva!’

Courtesy of Music Box Films

Bold crime film is vicious, sexy and throbbingly realistic.

A crime thriller about a nasty gang war ignited by a fuel crisis in Congo, Viva Riva! never runs out of gas. Driven by its charismatic gangster protagonist Riva, the film is a joyride that knows it will careen into a spectacular crash. Director Djo Tunda wa Munga captures a particular vibe driven by this mixture of carpe diem and self-destructive instinct, and his flamboyant style — especially in representing sex and violence — is reminiscent of Fernando Meirelles (City of God). Although that Brazilian director’s films are less frenzied, the surface similarities might be useful for marketing beyond festivals that have an agenda to discover African cinema.

Pouncing on a fuel shortage in Kinshasa, Riva (Patsha Bay Mukuna) makes a fast buck stealing truckloads of gas from his Angolan boss, Cesar (Hoji Fortuna). He returns to his hometown of Mariano for a boozing, clubbing and whoring spree, and while cruising with an old pal falls for Nora (Manie Malone), the moll of tough, porn-junkie local kingpin Azor. Meanwhile, Cesar pulls out all stops to find Riva, with the reluctant assistance of the Commandant (Marlene Longange) and her lesbian lover, Malou.

Viva makes a strong impression — not just with its erotic scenes, which are flamingly explicit and acrobatic, even by Western standards, or the brutality and gore that are equal matches for Korean revenge films — but in the way Riva exposes his society’s well-oiled corruption machine with such candor. Riva shows off his wads of greenbacks like a peacock preening his feathers, and everyone wants a cut of his lucrative gas — they’ll turn traitor or informant at the drop of a coin. Riva emerges as the most dewy-eyed, trusting and generous one.

Munga’s tone is one of a cynic’s dispassionate amusement rather than self-righteous moral outrage and his gangsters are like parodies of gangsters. Cesar plays the dandy, sporting a white suit with matching fedora and a long, flowing scarf. Munga handles a large, uniformly spirited cast and busy plot with ease and technical sophistication. The cinematography is slick, furnishing the protagonists’ extravagant costumes with sensuous, saturated colors, such as Nora’s sequined gown which shimmers in various colors, like her chameleon personality, as it picks up light in different settings. The music is a mixture of first-rate dance numbers and a low, humming percussive score intimating impending danger.

Berlin Film Festival | In Competition
Production Formosa Productions, MG Productions, Suka Productions
Cast Patsha Bay Mukuna, Manie Malone, Hoji Fortuna, Marlene Longange, Alex Herabo, Diplome Amekindra, Angelique Mbumb, Nzita Tumba, Jordan N’Tunga
Director Djo Tunda wa Munga
Screenwriter Steven Markovitz
Producers Boris Van Gils, Michael Goldberg
Director of photography Antoine Roch
Production designer Philippe Van Herwijnen
Music Louis Vyncke, Congopunq
Editor Yves Langlois
No rating, 98 minutes