Gangsta Excess From the Congo in Viva Riva!

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Viva Riva!
Written and directed by Djo Tunda Wa Munga
Music Box Films
Opens June 10, Angelika

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“Your country is the worst shit pile I have ever seen,” César (Hoji Fortuna), an Angolan crime boss, tells a Congolese soldier—an assessment that writer-director Djo Tunda Wa Munga doesn’t wish to disabuse us of. Viva Riva! is both the first feature by Munga, who left Kinshasa at age 10 for Belgium, later studying art and filmmaking in Brussels, and the first from the Democratic Republic of Congo to be distributed in the U.S. That in itself is worthy of some kind of celebration, even if Viva Riva! too lazily indulges in shapeless genre excess. After a decade away, gangster Riva (Patsha Bay Makuna) returns to Kinshasa with a truckload of gasoline he stole from César, hoping to score big in the fuel-depleted capital. Frequently fanning wads of cash, the hustler hits the clubs and the whorehouses, soon falling hard for Nora (Manie Malone), the flame-haired moll of a porn-addicted kingpin. Sweaty copulation, whether paid for (the dominant mode), consensual, het, or lez (not as radical as the coupling in 2001’s Karmen Gei, from Senegal), breaks up the scenes of torture and bullet-spraying, if not the moments of sloganeering. “Money is like poison—it always kills you,” Nora tells Riva after a vigorous workout in a bathtub; meanwhile, Munga revels in the rising body count.

 
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