Movie of the Week: “Viva Riva” (Democratic Rep. of Congo, 2010)
In “Viva Riva” Congolese director Djo Munga presents a gritty tale of stolen gasoline, African international organized crime and a society in chaos. Riva is a petty criminal who has appropriated a truckload of gasoline from an Angolan crime group. The DRC, like most African countries, is in the midst of a fuel crisis, not having enough foreign exchange with which to buy fuel, poor transportation infrastructure with which to ship it, and a corrupt political system which fails to address the underlying problems which contribute to both. Consequently, gasoline brought in on the black market can fetch more than $10 a liter and fuels (no pun intended) a deep culture of criminal activity.
Munga follows Riva as he gavalants through Kinshasa, visiting the deepest slums, crumbling mansions occupied by Congolese crime lords, families ravaged by the male pursuit of money and status, corrupt but well meaning government officers straddling a knife’s blade of professional and family obligations, desperate women who sell their bodies for survival, the shifting priorities of morality and money and the ubiquitous violence which plagues this vast country.
Viva Riva is an honest though stylistic portrait of a troubled country, shot, unfortunately, not with cell phones (as in his previous “Congo in Four Acts“) but with expensive digicam equipment. The big budget (by African standards) production values unfortunately work against this film’s gritty message, giving it a look that is more appropriate for straight to DVD exploitation features. Despite this, it is clear that Munga seeks to make a political statement while creating a piece that will satisfy viewers looking for gobs of sex and violent action. The most effectively shot scenes of the movie are the candid documentary style depictions of long lines of cars waiting for fuel and shots from cars while driving through Kinshasa at night. The actors in the foreground, unfortunately, take away from this reality.