Viva Riva!: Berlin Review

Formosa Productions
A bold crime action film that’s vicious, sexy and throbbingly realistic.

Djo Tunda wa Munga's crime action film never seems to run out of gas.

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 upstart gangster protagonist Riva, the film is one joyride that knows it will careen into a spectacular crash. Djo Tunda wa Munga captures the particular vibe released by this mixture of carpe diem and self-destructive instinct.

Munga’s flamboyant style, especially in representing sex and violence, has a likeness to Fernando Meirelles (City of God). Although the former directs with a different energy that gives the film a less frenzied and unsettling beat, the directors’ surface similarities are useful for marketing beyond festivals with an agenda to discover African cinema.

Pouncing on a fuel shortage in Kinshasa, bit-part gangster Riva (Patsha Bay Mukuna) makes a fast buck from stealing truckloads of gas from his Angolan boss Cesar (Hoji Fortuna). He returns to his hometown Mariano for a boozing, clubbing and whoring spree. While cruising with old pal J.M., he has the hots for Nora (Manie Malone) who’s 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 Longage) and her lesbian lover Malou.

Where Viva makes a strong mark is not with erotic scenes that are flamingly explicit (and acrobatic) even by western standards, or the brutality and gore that are equal matches for Korean revenge films. It is the way he exposes his society’s well-oiled corruption machine with such candor. Riva shows off his wads of greenbacks like a peacock preening his feathers. Everyone wants a cut of his lucrative gas, and they’ll be a 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. His gangsters are like parodies of gangsters. Cesar plays the dandy, sporting a white suit with matching fedora hat and long, flowing scarf. His flowery Christian rhetoric adds irony to other scenes satirizing the clergy’s dubious dealings.

Munga handles a large, uniformly spirited cast and busy plot with ease and technical sophistication. 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. Music is a mixture of first rate dance numbers and a low humming percussive score intimating impending danger. 

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum)
Sales: Beta Cinema
Production: Formosa Productions, MG Productions, Suka Productions
Cast: Patsha Bay Mukuna, Manie Malone, Hoji Fortuna, Marlene Longage, Alex Herabo, Diplome Amekindra, Angelique Mbumba, Nzita Tumba, Jordan N’Tunga
Director: Djo Tunda wa Munga
Screenwriter: Steven Markovitz
Producers: Boris Van Gils, Michael Goldberg
Director of photography: Antoine Roch afc
Production designer: Philippe Van Herwijnen
Music: Louis Vyncke, Congopunq
Editor: Yves Langlois
No rating, 98 minutes