Surprisingly, there’s no 4G coverage in this river.

Theatrical Release Date: 07/01/2011
Director: Djo Munga
Cast: Patsha Bay, Manie Malone, Hoji Fortuna, Diplome Amekindra, Marlene Longange, Alex Herabo
Rated: R for strong sexuality, graphic nudity, brutal violence, language and some drug use.
Runtime: 1 hour, 36 minutes


That’s what should happen to the script.

Here’s your brief history lesson for the day: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly called Zaire) underwent a civil war from 1997-1999, stemming from an influx of Rwandan and Burundi refugees fleeing their war torn countries. Fighting has lessened but thousands of people still die every month, as power struggles over natural resources add to the constant tension of the region.

This is the backdrop upon which writer/director Djo Munga builds “Viva Riva!”, the first film from the DRC to be released in America. The title refers to the main character, Riva (Patsha Bay), who returns to his childhood home city of Kinshasa with dreams of dollar bills in his head. He’s secured a large truckload of gasoline (which is very short in supply) and hopes to sell it off quick – since he knows that Cesar (Hoji Fortuna), the Angolan crime lord who previously possessed the truck’s contents, is hot on his heels.

While waiting for the gasoline to be sold, Riva enjoys frequenting a local brothel but he also meets the headstrong and pampered Nora (Manie Malone). Of course, the problem there (besides a confused sense of what it means to treat women right) is that her boyfriend is local gangster Azor (Diplome Amekindra), and he’s not pleased at the idea of losing his prize possession (at least not without financial compensation). Eventually, all three men are trying to figure out a way to profit from the petrol, a local military commander (Marlene Longange) is blackmailed into helping Cesar, and Riva shows us a creative way to get around those pesky iron bars on a window so he can perform oral sex on Nora.

Yeah … umm … that happened.

While it may seem like I’m being flippant about the manner in which the film develops, there are almost too many rookie filmmaking mistakes to count here. The first third of the film sets up the dangerous world of Kinshasa, and does a decent job of introducing us to these street smart characters; this certainly isn’t a tourism video.

However, once the gunplay and double crosses begin to take place, the whole effort devolves into what could best be described as farce. People are shot … only to get up shortly thereafter with very few noticeable after effects. At times, the subtitles make one wonder if the incoherence stems more from the muddled script or poor translation (of a muddled script). And in the final scenes, the confluence of all too convenient events in order to complete Munga’s bloody vision would be troubling if it wasn’t so ridiculous that laughter kept escaping my body.

Look, while the making of this film is a triumph unto itself, the end result is a hot mess. I laughed out loud a lot (read: A LOT) in the last thirty minutes … only this isn’t supposed to be a comedy. I appreciate what Munga is trying to do but “Viva Riva!” fails to execute in so many ways and gets a 1.5 out of 5. While it’s not a remarkable start for the Congo’s fledgling film industry, the good news is that it can only get better.

And if this review isn’t enough to deter you, maybe looking into charities that help the Congolese people is a better way to spend that ticket money. One charity-inspired effort our own Elizabeth Edgemont told me about is Falling Whistles, which helps educate on the plight of the country as well as provides means to donate towards relief efforts – either directly or through purchasing attractive whistles (which are a symbol you can learn about on their site). At least then you’ve done something for your soul, helped people in need, and avoided a bad film all at the same time.