Written and directed by Djo Munga (as Djo Tunda Wa Munga)
The chaotic urban life of Kinshasa, the largest city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the setting as rival factions battle over a cache of stolen fuel. Viva Riva! is a great film, among the best I’ve seen in African cinema. While the stereotypes for African films are weird Nigerian/Ghanaian films involving witchcraft, there is a diverse blend of film being produced that deserves a wider audience, and more funding to produce even higher quality cinema.
Gasoline thief Riva returns to Kinshasa with a truck full of pilfered fuel in the midst of the biggest gas shortage in ages. This basically means he gets a huge stack of cash – and the promise of much more, as his fencer is holding off selling the gas until the price goes up even higher! The large amount of American hundred dollar bills gives Riva access to a fast life that most of poor Kinshasa can only dream of. Riva likes the parties and money and being flashy, it is not in his nature to live in the shadows, but to be large.
Riva’s excess and extravaganza lures past associates to his side. His friend J.M. had settled down from his criminal past, having a family. But Riva’s return means J.M. is now going out all night, drinking and whoring it up. Riva sets his sights on a red headed beauty, Nora, who happens to be the kept girl of the local big criminal thug Azor. Despite the dangers, Riva continually pops up to hit on Nora. His success is due in part to Azor’s own failure, though Nora is far more complicated than just a prize to be fought for. But Nora and Azor are the least of Riva’s troubles, as he is being pursued by a violent and relentless opponent named César.
Viva Riva! excels by having a villain who is thoroughly ruthless, destroying anyone who stands between him and his goal, the gasoline that Riva stole from him. César dresses in all white, wears a fancy hat and wire-rimmed glasses, and speaks calmly, looking the part of an upper class intellectual. Despite the appearances, César is an efficient and brutal boss, quick to order torture and deaths to get to his gas. César manipulates and bribes his way through officials, forcing a female militia commander to help him by holding her sister hostage, and gunning down government officials who detain him over immigration reasons. A cunning and sadistic mastermind helps create a memorable foe.