So often films set in or made in Africa are heavy, poignant bits of cinema. Look at all the major Africa-related films over the last few years: Hotel Rwanda, Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland, The Constant Gardener, District 9. Great films, some of them, but emotionally draining. Watch that lot in a movie marathon and you’re left blubbering in a corner somewhere, just about ready to give up on the world and its evils.
If that’s how you’re feeling, Viva Riva! might be all the tonic you need to remember that there is fun and happiness and nightclubs in this world. Not that it’s a peaceful film, by any stretch of the imagination. There’s plenty of brawls, a bit of torture and more than one summary execution. But the murder is committed with a smile, to the beat of the Congolese hip-hop soundtrack and it’s very hard not to feel good afterwards.
Riva, the title character played by Congolese rapper Patsha Bay Mukuna, is a chancer who has somehow wangled himself a truck loaded with barrels of Angolan petrol. He drives it to Kinshasa, where there’s a serious petrol shortage, and immediately hits the town with an envelope stuffed with crisp $100 bills. But he’s immediately captivated by the sultry Nora, played by Manie Malone, who just happens to be the girlfriend of Kinshasa’s most dangerous gangster. Bad move, Riva. As Riva pursues Nora, he is being chased by Cesar, the suited and hatted Angolan crime boss whose petrol Riva has, played by Angolan-born Hoji Fortuna. Most of Cesar’s dialogue consists of telling the Congolese characters how crap their country is.
As the plot develops the main characters are joined by a cheeky streetkid, a lesbian army chief disguised as a nun and more than their fair share of prostitutes. Throw in loads of alcohol (the excellent Congolese Primus beer features prominently), all sorts of weapons and a variety of sexual positions and you have all the ingredients for a cracking story.
Viva Riva! delivers. And all against the backdrop of Kinshasa. The movie was shot on location, and this lends authenticity to its depiction of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital. It’s a seedy, grimy city. The houses are all colonial-era villas, their grandeur long-faded and their gardens in disrepair. The restaurants are plastic tables and chairs in the dust on the side of the road, plates heaped with rice and roast chicken. The nightclubs are dark and loud – and expensive; a bottle of champagne goes for $150 (about R1,200).
The film is a personal triumph for its director, Djo Tunda Wa Munga, who also wrote the script. It’s already won the inaugural MTV Award for Best African Film and Best Feature award at the Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles. But its most notable achievement is it’s the first film shot in the DRC in 25 years, after the movie industry was shut down by former dictator Mobuto Sese Seko.
It’s showing at selected Ster Kinekor cinemas from this week. Go see it. It’s about as close to the Congo as most of us will ever get. DM
In other news...
The South African economy is choking harder than the Proteas. Although to be choking you have to actually be eating and the Proteas seem to be on some sort of juice cleanse-like fast…*
Back to the economy: In the first quarter the GDP dive-bombed by a whopping 3.2%. The sense of futility can paralyse us into inaction and moaning. But it’s times like these that call for effort and action, no matter how small. Yes, South Africa is hurting. Yes the ravaged economy is evident everywhere you look. But you can make a difference, in your own personal way and by supporting independent media like Daily Maverick. We’ve pledged to continue the fight through producing incisive and impactful investigations and analysis, the same way we have done every day for the last decade.
By becoming a Maverick Insider you can help us keep doing what we do, so that you and others who can’t afford it, can keep reading the truth. For whatever amount you choose, you can support DM and it only takes a minute.
*Proteas, you know we love you. We’d just love you more if you won occasionally...
Despite receiving a knighthood from the Queen, Bill Gates cannot use the title "Sir" due to his being American.