Asian Editor; Hong Kong, China (@Marshy00)
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[With African action picture Viva Riva! opening in limited release in the US tomorrow we revisit our earlier review.]

Set in modern day Kingshasa - capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo - gasoline is in short supply. Riva, wonderfully portrayed by Patsha Bay, is a playboy and a grifter who arrives in town with a truckload of gas he's recently swiped from a gang of Angolans. Riva appears to be a smart, well-connected and charismatic guy who could be on his way to the top if he can sell this stash, that is until he lays eyes on Nora (Manie Malone) - the drop dead gorgeous girlfriend of a local bandit - and determines to make her his own. Meanwhile, Cesar (Hoji Fortuna), the particularly nasty Angolan from whom Riva stole the gasoline, cuts a swathe through the Kingshasa underworld in his attempts to hunt Riva down.

To say that VIVA RIVA! is well-made considering its origins would be a monumental disservice to all involved - the film is slick, sexy and stylish by anybody's standards to the extent that it's almost inconceivable that what you are watching is a first-time director at work in a country that has produced nothing of this kind in its history. The film is a gripping piece of film noir, brimming with sex, violence, bloodshed and corruption. Our hero Riva is flawed yet likable, Nora is a bewitching femme fatale any red-blooded male would step over their dying grandmother just to get close to, the villains are genuinely frightening and the corrupt officials even more so. To top it off, the action takes place in the sweltering heat of Kingshasa - a city throbbing with newfound wealth yet still reeling from an eternity spent below the poverty line. 

Ironically, the first time Riva sees Nora it is when she ducks out of a party to urinate in the bushes, only for it to become apparent she now resides in the upper echelons of Congolese society. VIVA RIVA! takes its audience through the squalor of the shanty towns into the mansions and nightclubs of the city's wealthy elite, helping us understand the diversity of the city, the gaping void between the haves and the have-nots and underpinning the thirst for money that drives all these characters to risk their lives. 

The names Patsha Bay, Manie Malone and particularly Djo Tunda Wa Munga are now front and centre on my radar and whatever any of them set their sights on next is sure to be worth checking out. VIVA RIVA! boasts a seductive combination of African mystique and hardboiled noir storytelling that makes for one seriously sexy crime flick.  

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Djo MungaPatsha BayManie MaloneHoji FortunaMarlene LongangeCrimeDramaThriller

More about Viva Riva!

krakarJune 10, 2011 9:52 PM

Allright! I bet a lot of people will be very happy to see a genuine african action thriller! Do we have a noirish Congolese City of God/Slumdog Millionare here maybe?

Tuan JimJune 11, 2011 10:22 PM

Impressed that I had a chance to catch this in Portland, OR at the Cinema 21 theater the one weekend I was in town. Entertaining on the whole - a consistently interesting confluence of characters and situations.

I think a little was lost in the subtitles - pretty clear there were different languages being spoken by different groups throughout the film (and that not all characters necessarily understood each other), but not expressed as clearly.

Wouldn't have minded a little more action and a little less focus on the sex, but a great first film to say the least. Recommended if you can find it.