Review: Viva Riva! DVD

Viva Riva! DVDSTUDIO: Music Box | DIRECTOR: Djo Tunda Wa Munga | CAST: Patsha Bay Mukuna, Diplome Amekindra, Manie Malone, Hoji Fortuna
9/27/2011 | PRICE: DVD $29.95
director interview, featurette about AIDS in the Congo
R | 96 min. | Foreign language thriller | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | French and Lingala with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

The first film from the Democratic Republic of Congo to receive a major release in theaters in the U.S., Viva Riva! tells the seamy — and steamy — tale of a small-time hood named Riva (Patsha Bay Mukuna) and what he experiences when he arrives back in his hometown of Kinshasa after a decade-long absence.

Viva Riva! movie scene

Patsha Bay Mukuna is a small-time hood looking for his shot in Viva Riva!

So what does a returning hometown son do in Kinshasa, a frantic, corrupt locale if ever there was one? Well, if you’re Riva, you dive headfirst into the drugs, booze, floozies, clubs and looming violence that appear to be the town’s raison d’etre — especially when you’re in possession of a pocketful of cash and a truckload of stolen gasoline and are enjoying calling the shots for a change. If only  ambitious local gangster Diplome Amekindra), his slinky, red-tressed girlfriend (Manie Malone) and a vicious Angolan crime lord (Hoji Fortuna) looking for his gas weren’t always complicating matters! Well, the gal ain’t too bad, as far as Riva can tell…

Colorfully written and energetically directed by first-time narrative feature film helmer Djo Tunda Wa Munga, Viva Riva! doesn’t serve up anything that hasn’t been explored before in exotic but corrupt “port of call” movies dating back to Casablanca. But the Kinshasa setting and the sense of danger that pervades its sleazily exotic atmosphere is undeniably edgy and exciting. Ditto for the gangsters’ rising tensions and penchant for violence, not to mention a few eye-opening sex scenes involving tribal masks and a barred bedroom window.

Viva Riva! won the first MTV Best African Movie Award this past year, which is no surprise as it’s slickly photographed and edited and filled with cool-looking people generally enjoying all manner of sex, drugs and violence. Again, it’s not unlike the sex, drugs and violence one encounters in U.S. films — it just comes off so much more, oh, foreign and enticing when its happening in Kinshasa.

Bonus features include an interview with the director and a featurette about AIDS in the Congo, both of which were unavailable for screening at press time.

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.