In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) gas is in extremely short supply and the country is looking for any sign of relief. While the gas shortage is bad for DRC, it is great news for Riva. Having just arrived from Angola with the biggest, and only, shipment of gas for miles Riva stands to make a huge profit from the crisis. As he waits to sell the gas to the highest bidder, Riva and his best friend party like kings. Although he can have any woman he wants, Riva falls for a mysterious red head, Nora, who is linked to a local gangster. While Riva focuses all his attention on pursuing this mysterious beauty; his rival Cesar, a sharply dressed criminal from Angola, has landed in DRC with only revenge on his mind.
Billed as the first major film to come out of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Viva Riva! tries hard to prove it can rival the gangster films in America and Asia. Yet the urgency of wanting to make its mark is what ultimately the films downfall. What starts out as an intriguing and entertaining crime story becomes rather muddled by the midway point. Director Djo Tunda Wa Munga is so fascinated with the violence and frank sex that the film becomes rather gratuitious by the end. For example, one minute a character is lamenting that he needs to go home and tend to his sick child...only to turn around and have rough sex with a less than attractive prostitute. Later on we see the same character beat his wife to within inch of her life, just to emphasize that he is leaving her for more prosperous opportunities. This is not even a fraction of the craziness that the latter half of the film provides.
Up until the halfway mark Viva Riva! showed a lot of promise. I loved the actors who played both Riva and Cesar; as both men had wonderful chemistry and overall charisma. It should also be noted that Viva Riva! is a great looking film. The production value is crisp and Munga shows in several scenes that he has a great visual eye. If Munga had paid closer attention to keeping the plot on track throughout, Viva Riva! could have been the surprise film of the festival. Sadly, it falls short of being anything more than the film that tested my wife’s patience.