Gritty Gangster Film Reveals Mean Streets of Kinshasa
Viva Riva! is the first film to come out of the Democratic Republic of Congo and receive worldwide distribution in more than two decades. It was filmed in the local language of Lingala on the mean streets of Kinshasa, capital of the DRC. The film has won six African Movie Awards and Best African Movie at the recent MTV Movie Awards, among other accolades.
The film tells the story of Riva, a small time gangster, who stole a load of gasoline from his Angolan crime lord boss and seeks to sell it in Kinshasa, a city where even the advantaged mistress of a local crime boss is stymied in her efforts to go shopping by an empty gas tank. Riva, an insouciant charmer, falls for this mistress and finds himself being chased by both crime lords. It reveals much about living in Kinshasa that the item being coveted by all characters in the film is not a precious gem or exotic weapon, but a basic staple
that we take for granted – gasoline.
The co-star of the film is Kinshasa itself, a city that has a throbbing street life captured in sometimes disturbing, but always vivid detail. Although the plot line is a rather conventional gangster tale ala Pulp Fiction, the fact that it is set in Kinshasa a setting not familiar to most of us, demands attention. The film captures the desperation and fight for survival
that Kinshasans who have lived through every kind of spirit-crushing experience imaginable – war, crime, corruption, food and energy shortages, poverty-- have faced over the past twenty years.
First-time director, Djo Tunda Wa Munga was awarded Best Director at the African Movie Academy Awards in 2011 for Viva Riva! He was born and raised in the Congo
. He studied filmmaking at INSAS in Belgium, where he took inspiration from European and American films before returning to his homeland. Once in Kinshasa, Munga was forced to build a film culture where there wasn't one before. He canvassed the streets of Kinshasa for actors and technical staff. He held months long workshops and training sessions for the cast and crew. The cast includes mainly local Congolese first-time actors. Only the Parisian actress Manie Malone who plays Nora, the gangster’s mistress had previous acting experience. For the filming, Malone moved to the Congo for two months and learned the native Lingala language.
This film is not for the faint of heart. It is rated R for strong sexuality, graphic nudity, brutal violence, language and some drug use. And, quite honestly, this rating doesn’t fully capture the rawness displayed in the film. But, despite this, Viva Riva! Is worth watching for a revealing glimpse into a world that is far beyond what most of us can imagine.
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