Friday, September 24, 2010

TIFF10 Review: Viva Riva!

Viva Riva!

There are some films that will always be remembered for reasons beside the film itself. This could be the place you saw the film, the person or people you saw it with, etc. Viva Riva! is a film that will forever be remembered in my household. It holds the honour of being the first film that my wife has ever walked out on. I mean ever! Although I stayed to the very end, I could see how Viva Riva! might evoke such a strong reaction.

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.


  1. Anonymous6:25 pm

    Just a couple of corrections. The "sharply dressed criminal from Angola"'s name is Cesar, not Azor. Second, I'm African and I saw the film. And if the writer has some experience in central Africa sociology and matters, will easily find that the examples he provided as nonsense, are rather "normal" in those societies. Viva Riva is a fictional portray of Congolese society and other types of similar societies. I strongly recommend the writer to visit the Congo and digg up stories. You'll be fascinated with how much certain African societies differ from western societies. But I do understand why your wife left the theatre. The images in the movie are rather shocking and intense. But that's Africa we're talking about, friend :).

  2. @Anonymous – Thank you for catching the Cesar/Azor error. In regards to the second half of your comment. I am fully aware that life in the Congo is vastly different to the North America. Yet in regards to the world of film, there are ways of successfully depicting the sex and violence while still not losing sight of the overall story. If the film had been a documentary then you could get away with saying that it is just “normal” life. Yet as Viva Riva! is a fictional story, you have to ensure that the main story flows as well. For example, the film hints at the death of Riva’s brother at the beginning yet it never touches on it again until the scene at his father’s house. Since we are given very little information about the brother up to that point, the whole scene at the father’s house does not carry the impact it should. There are plenty more examples where simple, but important, story elements are ignored due to the random scenes of violence and sex. Regardless of where the film originates from, the minute you lose focus on the plot the entire film collapses.

  3. Anonymous12:49 am

    Well, I must agree with you on that point. That brother aspect of the film was a bit shaddy. An unfortunate choice. But also, as I heard the director say on the Q&A, he had to make a fast cut of the film for the Festival. I am to think that with the feed back from the audience and the critics, he might make a few improvements. As far as my concern, it was a good piece of entertainment and I could "feel" the concern for making it "artistic". I certainly enjoyed it as an action film. It was to me more real than many blockbusters parading in theatres.

  4. Anonymous1:23 am

    Well, you got a point there. That brother story was a bit shaddy. An unfortunate choice. But I also recall the director saying that he had to rush the cutting of the film for Toronto. So, maybe there will be a much more interesting cut when it actually hit the theatres.

  5. @Anonymous - I would definitely watch more of this directors work in the future. He clearly has the skills to be a great director one day. I just was not found of this particular film. However, I would be interested in seeing what changes he make to Viv Riva!'s theatrical release

  6. Just saw the film at berlinale. I really was fascinated. I can understand the critique, but instead of walking away, I could have stayed longer. It is a pity that african fiction films are so rare.

  7. @Nic - While I was not fond of the film, the overall response has been fairly positive. Maybe this will be the film that brings African fiction to more people’s attention. I agree that there needs to be more African cinema available to the world. I think there is a wealth of fascinating stories that need to be told.


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