' Cinema Romantico: Viva Riva!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Viva Riva!

"It takes money to make money." - Mark Wahlberg, Contraband

"Money is like poison. In the end, it always kills you." - Mani Malone, Viva Riva!

I don't think it's mere coincidence I saw the African crime thriller "Viva Riva!", written and directed by Djo Munga, the night before the American crime thriller "Contraband" was released into theaters. The latter's trailer comes across like so many films before it, an ex-con who's gone straight unwillingly pulled back into the game to save a loved one. It is done this way, of course, to ensure audiences have a rooting interest and so that when the rooting interest inevitably emerges victorious audiences can go home happy and not feel as if they were spending their two hours in the company of bad people. The former is the exact opposite. Don't let that title fool you. It is a movie about a large number of bad people doing bad things to one another in the name of some very bad reasons. Even the eventual "man of God" who shows ain't all on the up and up. 


The Riva of the title, played fairly charismatically by Patasha Bay, is your typical wheeler, dealer, schemer, though not so much a dreamer, returning from Angola home to Kinshasa of the Democratic Republic of Congo with a whole big bunch of gasoline. See, gas is scarce in Kinashasa, sort of turning it into an African "Mad Max", and Riva and his pals plan to sell it off to desperate bidders for a high cost. Ah, except Riva's old boss from Angola, Cesar (Hoji Fortuna), is hot on his tail and enlists the unwilling aid of an army commander (Marlene Longange) by taking her sister hostage. Riva, though, seems less concerned about the possibility of - to quote 2Pac - "death around the corner" than with finding a way to make Nora, the girl of a local crime boss (Diplome Amekindra), fall in love with him. This is probably the film's sweetest aspect and yet even it is coated in the stench of deceit. Every time Riva makes a move Nora threatens to have her "man" who she clearly doesn't even like rough the persistent Riva up. And when Riva finally appears to have won her over via a bit of dashing cunning she cons him for damn near all his cash. Even if she seems to regret doing so, well, she still CONS HIM FOR DAMN NEAR ALL HIS CASH.

Everyone here seems well aware that it takes money to make more money but they also seem well aware that the more money they make the more likely they are to end up bloody and beaten on the floor or burned alive. The lives of leisure they lead when not trying to make money seem not born of enjoyment but as a respite. They didn't die today so tonight they live it up because tomorrow......who knows? The stakes consistently feel real and the film maintains a gritty, forceful feel without ever really resorting to your standard shaky cam sorta cinematography, eliciting its mood through rough and tumble locations and some seriously wicked comedy.


While there is significant violence throughout there isn't much gunplay until the concluding setpiece that brings most everyone together. In a way this sequence seems predictable - like something out of the worn pages of the Q.T. playbook - but it's actually a lot tougher than it appears, not letting any single character off the hook. And the closing shot is a bag of bricks dropped from a roof that clean knocks you out. For 90 minutes you assume you're watching a bit of genre madness - albeit a minorly brilliant bit of genre madness - and then suddenly everything flips which is so spot-on because all these people swirling around and grabbing for cash fail to realize the trickle-down effect of their actions.

In the end, it's the children that get screwed and the circle of unpleasant life continues.

3 comments:

Music Box Films said...

Great review! This movie was so underrated, especially in the US. http://www.musicboxfilms.com/viva-riva

Hoji Fortuna said...

One of the best reviews I read about Viva Riva.

Nick Prigge said...

It's a fantastic movie that deserves to be seen by more. Simple truth.

I genuinely thank you both for stopping by and reading.