Coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and hoping to spearhead a filmmaking renaissance there, crime thriller Viva Riva! immediately impresses with novelty, but soon hits on too many familiar genre conventions to stand out from the crowd.
After working as a low-level crook in Angola, Riva (Patsha Bay) makes off with a truckload of petrol, planning to siphon off his precious cargo in exchange for a small fortune in the bone-dry Congolese capital, Kinshasa. However, word of his deal causes a stir, with various parties, from crooked state officials to ambitious clergymen, wanting their cut – while Angolan gangster César (Hoji Fortuna) is in hot pursuit, aiming to claim both the petrol and Riva’s head.
For his first feature film, writer-director Djo Munga takes a mere side-glance at the myriad issues concerning Congolese society, instead opting to make a popcorn flick, full of sex, violence and nefarious deeds. It is unfortunate, as political tension – as glimpsed in César’s vitriolic judgement of Congolese character, “Maybe you should have remained colonised” – takes a backseat to a rather toothless exploration of sexuality.
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