Viva Riva! (Djo Tunda Wa Munga, 2010)

I was intrigued by this film as it is apparently the first feature film to come out of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Written and directed by first-timer Djo Munga; Viva Riva, set in Kinshasa, is an action thriller which, intentionally or not, harks back to the American Blaxploitation flicks of the 1970s.

Patsha Bay stars as the Riva of the title, a charismatic and charming operator on the make who has liberated a truckload of petrol from local Kingpin Cesar (Hoji Fortuna). The city is out of fuel and Riva sees an opportunity to make a fast buck, however Cesar is on his tail. Riva also raises the ire of another of  Kinshasa’s hoodlums, Azor (Diplome Amekindra) by falling for his beautiful mistress Nora (Manie Malone). Riva finds himself pursued by both as he tries to get rid of the fuel and win Nora’s heart.

Munga shows he can certainly tell a story; he knows how to build tension and keeps the action moving at a good old pace, however his direction is quite flat, lacking any real inventiveness or flair. The film shows promise in the first twenty minutes, but after that the cracks begin to show. This ain’t no City of God.  Apart from Bay and Malone, the performances are one-note and quite badly acted in places.  The screenplay doesn’t help either; it’s poorly written and clunky, but we may be missing something in the translation into subtitles.

The glimpses we get of life on the mean streets of Kinshasa – frequent power cuts, crime, poverty, prostitution –  hint at ingredients for a better film, however Munga hasn’t made it. Instead he’s opted for an escapist throwback with comic-book villains, a perennially smiling, good-humoured protagonist and Malone’s one-dimensional eye candy. Still, it’s an enjoyable bit of fluff; worth seeing out of curiosity, if nothing else.

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