A refreshing look at corruption, sex and betrayal in Kinshasa

Monday October 17 2011
viva riva

A scene in Viva Riva! The acclaimed movie pushes the envelope on what is ‘acceptable’ to African audiences. PHOTO| COURTESY

Fast-paced, gritty and thick with tension, crime thriller Viva Riva! is an unsentimental yet exhilarating ride through Kinshasa’s dark underworld.

Lead character Riva, played by Patsha Bay Mukuna, is a small-time hustler who returns to his hometown after a 10-year stint in Angola, smuggling in a truckload of petrol that he has stolen from an Angolan crime lord, Cesar.

It’s a scene many in East Africa can identify with—Kinshasa is suffering a biting fuel shortage, and desperate drivers are lining up in their cars at petrol stations.

The black gold is retailing at $7 a litre. Riva plans to make big money, but the ruthless Cesar is hot on his trail.

Throw in a beautiful girl and you have a gripping cat-and-mouse game punctuated by a combination of unbridled greed, brutal violence and imaginative sex.

The film certainly deserves all the hype it got at this year’s African Movie Academy Awards (AMAAs) held in March, where it scooped six trophies including best film, best director and best cinematography, a brilliant first effort for director Djo Tunda wa Munga.


It also won the 2011 MTV Movie Award for best African film and best feature from the 2011 Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles.

Vaguely reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, the Lingala and French film boasts sophisticated camerawork and a courageous, wholly refreshing exploration of sex, corruption and betrayal — nothing like your typical Nollywood fare.

“The film is a winner for many reasons,” says Kenyan filmmaker and writer Simiyu Barasa, who was involved in the shortlisting of films for AMAAs.


“First, it’s a really great storyline and second, it’s a localised story that is done in a very authentic way, such that Kinshasa is brought alive. The use of local language in the script really brought out the acting.”

Angolan actor Hoji Fortuna plays the vindictive Cesar, and obviously enjoys doing so — he gets to be immaculately dressed in dapper suits like every villain should be, complete with the sunglasses.

But villains are often one-dimensional characters, and Cesar arguably is, which would be one of the film’s few weaknesses. Munga gives a more nuanced treatment to the supporting characters, from an enterprising street kid to a bisexual prostitute.

Pushing the boundaries

“I love the fact that the film pushes the envelope on what is ‘acceptable’ to African audiences,” says Kevina Navisino, president of Women in Film and Television, Kenya.

“I don’t agree that it’s okay to show violence and sex in Western films but it’s not okay to do that here. The reality of life is that Africa has sex, violence and corruption. It’s not all panoramic views of the Maasai Mara.”

Kinshasa or Kin la belle (Kin the beautiful) is the city known for its music, not its movies, but enthusiasts hope that Viva Riva! will be the spark that will reignite an industry that has been dormant for the past 25 years.

Still, the film remains true to the city’s musical legacy: the soundtrack features classics from rhumba maestro Franco, the contemporary sound of Werrason, as well as pulsating Congotronics or “Congolese electronics,” a techno-inspired dance genre in Lingala.

Barasa says that Viva Riva! is set to be a benchmark in regional film-making.

“We need to tell our own stories.

I’ve heard people complain that many of our movies are shot in the backstreets and alleys. But I think that if the story calls for it, then we should go ahead and shoot them in the backstreets — Munga didn’t try to fake it or gloss over Kinshasa.”

It took Munga seven years to translate his idea onto the screen. According to Navisino, Viva Riva! makes one appreciate that making a good film takes patience.

“Many of our productions are rushed — we just want to churn out film after film.

But you wait until you have a script that works. You could have all the money but your film is not going to hold with a weak script.”