When a young hustler called Riva returns home after a successful venture with his pockets full of cash he has only one thing on his mind - to party. But in the depths of a cify rife with crime, corruption, drugs and debauchery, the things you desire can come at a deadly cost - especially when they belong to another... Quickly Riva's dream of decadence becomes a violent nightmare as he is pursued by two angry gangsters.
‘Viva Riva!’ is the writing-and-directorial debut of Djo Munga from the Democratic Republic of Congo who studied film in Belgium. This is a fine way to introduce oneself. ‘Viva Riva!’ is rich in story and characters, its production is both gritty and lush thanks to its exotic locale of Kinshasa, Congo, and the themes are filmic at best. ‘Viva Riva!’ is a nod to Hollywood gangster films; only it has its own point of view.
‘Viva Riva!’ follows Riva (Patsha Bay), a thief who has a truckload of fuel he stole from Angola. Riva wants to sell his wares but there are too many distractions, including a beautiful moll Nora whom he falls head over heels for. Trouble is Nora’s a favorite of the local gang lord and you know what happens to those who want to take what the boss likes.
Riva’s also not in the clear with his ‘business’. His thievery has not been forgotten and the Angolans he stole from want their fuel back. If they have to kill Riva to have it, then so be it. As Riva wheels and deals and traverses the ins and outs of the Congolese crime world, we are given glimpses that greed is universal, criminality is a common pastime, and money is everything. Riva may be from Congo but he experiences almost the same thing as the rest of us. You get the sinking feeling his future is bleak at best.
A pat on writer-director Djo Tunda’s back for bringing Congo to the big screen. Indeed, its natural wonders and tourist spots are not in focus and the country’s underbelly is exposed instead, but that’s what makes ‘Viva Riva!’ endearingly real. It makes you realize that lawlessness is an affliction of people who are deprived of better alternatives.
‘Viva Riva!’ also makes sure that what you are seeing is fiction. The stylish way it’s presented, the colors, the over-the-top characters – it’s bordering on Al Pacino’s ‘Scarface’ territory, only that Patsha Bay is a more smiley and less intimidating version of Tony Montana.