The First Congolese Grind House Noir? by Jack Fleischer
Viva Riva holds hints of classic noir fiction with a story featuring gangsters, femme fatals, and an antihero. It also has graphic violence and gratuitous sex reminiscent of ‘70s grind house. All of this is then set against the unstable economic strife of modern day Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This French/Lingala language movie is not politically correct, but man, it’s fascinating to watch.
Our hero, Riva, is played well enough by Congo born singer Patsha Bay in his first acting role. He’s a small time hood who decides to steel a gas truck from an Angolan gang he’s working for. With gas at a high premium in his hometown of Kinshasa, he goes back, his first return in a decade, in order to sell the fuel. But, the gang is hot on his tale, there’s a local gangster that doesn’t like him, and along the way he falls for a woman that all common sense says he should stay away from.
This film is neither the most gratuitously violent, nor the most sexually explicit film I’ve seen in the last ten years, but it has its fare share of both. I’ll say this, if it weren’t for Viva Riva I probably never would have known that a man could deliver decent oral pleasure to a lady through a window crossed with iron bars. Plus, just like you can’t watch an episode of “The Office” without seeing paper, you can’t set a movie in a whole bunch of whorehouses without seeing a naughty bit or two.
As for the violence, most of the cast doesn’t make it to the credits, and there are a lot of early exits.
Because of all this, some have complained that this film paints an unfair picture of life in Kinshasa. I can’t say that the picture is at all correct in it’s depiction, but it’s true that the image painted isn’t flattering. The film’s writer/director/producer, Djo Tunda wa Munga, has never directed a feature film before, but he’s a Congo native who has produced two previous documentaries, including 2010’s Congo in Four Acts. I trust him enough to tell me a story about his reality. But honestly, why should we feel that this movie is indicative of the whole of Kinshasa any more than “Pulp Fiction” represents all of Los Angeles?
Hoji Fortuna plays the lead villain, César, with steely cold brutishness, Manie Malone is a convincingly comely honeytrap, and one of my favorite performances comes from Marlene Longange as a conflicted military commander who winds up working for César.
The ending … keeps going (think Lord of the Rings), and there’s one shot at the end that takes on a sort of stagey metaphorical feeling with an oddly used dissolve, but I’ll forgive it.
In the end, this extremely dark and voyeuristic journey was something I’d never seen before, and I absolutely dug it.