Viva Riva!

Finally! An African feature film that merges the pleasures of Nollywood with sleek camerawork, satisfying genre thrills and a rare look inside the very heart of the continent. “Viva Riva!” is unprecedented: a story set in contemporary Democratic Republic of the Congo full of intrigue, music and a surprisingly frank approach to sex.

Riva is an operator, a man with charm and ambition in equal measure. Kinshasa is an inviting place. With petrol in short supply in DRC’s capital, he and his sidekick pursue a plot to get hold of a secret cache – barrels of fuel they can sell for a huge profit. Of course they’re not the only ones who want the stuff. Cesar is a ruthless, sharply dressed foreigner thriving in Kinshasa’s lawless streets. A female military officer joins the fray. Even the church will betray its tenets for a piece of the action. But Riva’s main nemesis is Azor, a crime boss in the classic style: big, decadent and brutal. He’s not a man to mess with, but his girlfriend, Nora, may just be the most seductive woman in all of DRC. Riva catches sight of her dancing at a nightclub and it’s not long before Nora matches the fuel cache as a coveted object of his lust.

Shooting in high definition, Munga saturates this African genre film with rich color and movement. The camera snakes through crowded streets and steaming nightclubs, capturing the tangible atmosphere of DRC today. As the film roves from Azor’s luxury lair, to lush scenes outside the city, to the dens where sin is for sale, “Viva Riva!” offers a portrait of urban Africa too rarely seen on screen. Even more surprising are its scenes of urgent sensuality, as Riva pursues Nora – or perhaps it’s the other way around.

“The main purpose of a filmmaker,” Munga has said, “is to make film where it’s needed.” With Viva Riva! he kick-starts a film industry in DRC, and does it with style, focus and a whole lot of sizzle. [Synopsis by Cameron Bailey/Toronto International Film Festival]