Congolese film VIVA RIVA! is unlikely to be precisely what you might think. Going in, it’s easy to expect yet another modern example of third cinema depicting the struggles of a developing nation, shot in the hyper-kinetic, gritty style employed most famously by Fernando Meirelles in 2002’s CITY OF GOD, and imitated by so many films since. So in a sense it’s admirable that director Djo Munga chooses a much more conventional shooting and editing style for VIVA RIVA!, and indeed much of the film is beautifully photographed and richly colourful, but by largely ignoring any larger issues (aside from the occasional suggested or tangential reference), we are left with a somewhat empty and at times silly film. That’s not to say that third cinema needs to be all bleakness and political issues, but in this particular case a little more depth would be welcome, as the primary story is so slight and uninspired that the whole exercise becomes frustratingly pointless.
VIVA RIVA! follows the story of small-time hustler Riva (Patsha Bay Mukuna) who, having just hijacked a large supply of fuel, returns to his hometown of Kinshasa in search of seemingly nothing more than a good time. Running afoul of the local head gangster due to his pursuit of Nora (Manie Malone), Riva bounces around the seedier parts of the city, drinking with buddies and visiting brothels, before being tracked down by the Angolan owners of the stolen fuel. Unfortunately, most of Riva’s story holds little interest, and several side plots, particularly one addressing the extent of the corruption within Kinshasa, are relegated to nothing more than background information. For a country like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, international film distribution is unfortunately scarce, so the emptiness of VIVA RIVA! is especially disappointing, as surely there are more interesting and meaningful stories to be told.