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Viva Riva!

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    I recently watched Viva Riva!, a Congolese crime thriller from the first-time director Djo Tunda wa Munga. The film came out on DVD a little while ago. One of my main reasons for searching it out was its connection with Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, which the director has in a number of reviews named as the primary influence on the film (see for example here and here).

    In a nutshell, Viva Riva! is a noir-inspired story which follows a guy named Riva, who has stolen a truckload of fuel in Angola and brought it to Kinshasa (the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) where he falls for a sexy redhead who happens to be the woman of a local gangster. To make the matters more complicated, the Angolan guys he stole the fuel from are also after him.

    The film was shot in Kinshasa (apparently making it the first film shot in Congo in 25 years), and has a very organic feel to it. It follows Western noir traditions but does a great job in creating an African (or Congolese) cinematic identity, while not straying into the pitfalls of exoticism. All in all, it is very proficiently made, and apart from one actor whom I didn’t particularly like, has some fairly strong performances. It may not be a perfect film — at times it feels like the work is trying to tackle too much — but it is something that has definitely stayed with me since seeing it, and it has made me curious to explore African cinema in more depth.

    As for the Kurosawa connection, as the short plot summary above shows, Viva Riva! is not a remake of Stray Dog. In fact, there are few, if any, plot elements that the two share directly. Yet, the influence of Kurosawa’s film is quite visible. Most importantly, Viva Riva! has that documentary-like voice which Stray Dog makes use of, and just like Stray Dog, it leaves you with some rather big questions that have to do with human responsibility and the future of a war-torn nation.

    I would definitely recommend Viva Riva!, if you are in the mood for a thoughtful and well made crime thriller. As for me, I’m looking forward to Munga’s next work: according to the interviews, he is currently working on two projects, one of which is a Chinese co-production.

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