By Dan Cerruti
Movies always come with two stories; one that the film tells, the other of where it came from. While “Michael Bay likes giant robots” isn’t really a compelling backstory to a film’s onus, Viva Riva! Comes with a special history. The director, Djo Munga, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and moved to Belgium to study filmmaking. For his first feature he went back home, and Viva Riva! is the result- the sweaty, sexy, violent result- and it’s the first narrative film to be produced in the Congo to hit the States in more than 20 years while also boasting 6 African Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Before you start thinking this is all some neo-colonial indictment or whatever else documentaries have conditioned you for when Africa shows up on screen, this is something drastically different- unleashed entertainment. The story follows Riva, a small time gangster returning to the gas-deprived Congo with a truck of stolen petrol his Angolan crime boss wants back, as he fights and fucks through a long weekend. Even while picking up enough bought-n-paid-for ladies to keep Wilt Chamberlain happy, Riva finds time to romance the heinously gorgeous girlfriend of a local hood (with some cunnilingus through security bars to seal the deal). Throughout it all that aforementioned Angolan crime boss is kicking the shit out of the Congo on Riva’s trail while looking fresh in a white linen suit, as all bad guys should.
Viva Riva!’s depiction of crime and sex in the Congo strikes a fine balance between reveling in familiar genre fun and exposing an ingrained corruption of the country. Xenophobia, blackmailed military, violent sexism, and even a priest gaming the system all weave into a world where anything goes for the elusive dollar. The combination of Hollywood-approved, flamboyant filmmaking with the sweat and hustling of Congolese hoods makes for a compelling narrative that brings you further into the sub-Saharan African world than any Bono speech could.
Check website for showtimes: http://www.musicboxfilms.com/viva-riva/