By Robert Abele
June 9, 2011
The best crime sagas are stories sparked by the thrill of shortsighted dreams that ultimately lead to a violent, messy end.
Congolese writer-producer-director Djo Tunda Wa Munga's feature debut "Viva Riva!" is one such gangster drama, a nastily effective, sociologically pungent genre piece about a hedonistic, low-level operator (Patsha Bay Mukuna) with a truckload of stolen fuel to sell in corrupt, gas-starved Kinshasa.
Pursued by the white-suited, sadistic Angolan (a chilling Hoji Fortuna) whom he ripped off, Riva blithely caters to his own desires, hitting on a local kingpin's bored girlfriend (Manie Malone), and corrupting his working-stiff family-man friend J.M. (Alex Herbo).
With an Elmore Leonard-like rogue's gallery of characters -- including a lesbian army commander (Marlene Longage) and her informant girlfriend (Angelique Mbumb) -- plus a swift, raw and occasionally eccentric approach to violence and sexuality, Munga treats his richly untidy exercise in brazen criminality like an ever-widening pool of spilled immorality in which no one is left unstained.
As gut-punch storytelling, "Viva Riva!" delivers much, not the least of which is the promise of an exciting new filmmaking talent.
"Viva Riva!" MPAA rating: R for strong sexuality, graphic nudity, brutal violence, language and some drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. At the Nuart, West Los Angeles.