Viva Riva! by Djo Tunda Wa Munga (2010) Sexistential action Kinshasa style
Deliberate or not, our actions seem to have a way of coming back on us. Some believe that ancestors, universe or gods are in control, holding us accountable and making us reap what we saw. Others consider everything that happens to be random events, some more significant than others. In the world of Viva Riva! money, the main reason for living and the principal cause of death, is the only thing that matters.
In Djo Tunda Wa Munga's Kinshasa every man, woman and child is for themselves. It's a place where solidarity and gain are, if not synonymous so inseparable, and likely to shift at any time. A place where everyone is doing what they can to carve out a unique space within which to operate and make enough money to survive, maybe even thrive. In fact the art of hustling is taken to such extremes in Viva Riva! that the most devoted hustlers don't even have time to die.
One of the hardest working hustlers is Riva (Patsha Bay), who has returned to his hometown Kinshasa with a truckload of petrol that he's planning to sell. During a night out he meets Nora (Manie Malone) and falls in love with her (or decides he wants to own her, a distinction that's hard to make in a world where the line between purchasing and physical desire is severely blurred).
Before becoming obscenely rich and winning Nora's heart (which is obviously not for free), Riva first has to deal with César (Hoji Fortuna), the crook from whom he stole the petrol, and Azor (Diplome Amekindra), Nora's gangster boyfriend, who isn't prepared to let go of her, more out of a sense of ownership than love.
One could maybe be forgiven for being tempted to regard both the super cool and good-looking Nora and Riva as just entertaining comic books heroes inhabiting a surreal world, but not for ignoring that Munga is reminding us that whatever we do, and whomever we have become, we are still someone's daughter or son, thus offering his audience the opportunity to engage with this sexy existentialaction in all its complexity.
Similarly, writing off Nora as a passive black Barbie and the enemy of emancipated women for her sexy looks and for agreeing to be treated as a commodity, would be a rather uninspired interpretation of a film that, like the brilliant TV-series The Wire and Deadwood, is a poignant and vibrant comment on capitalism gone haywire. Viva Riva! could actually not have been released at a better time, when countries are crumbling and thousands of New Yorkers and others are marching against a rampant capitalist system that is leaving millions of wounded along its way.
Amidst news about a country in flames, where people in general and women in particular are falling victim to unparalleled cruelties, it's not always easy to remember that people still dance, laugh, make love and cheat on each other in Kinshasa. And out of misguided concern for those who suffer, we might easily be fooled into denying the existence of every-day concerns in the DRC and other troubled corners of the world. What we should remember however, is that the day we forget that the Congolese are individuals that cannot be defined just by the circumstances they live under, that's the day when we'll forget about our shared humanity, and when we'll stop caring about a people too often portrayed as one-dimensional victims or villains without a past and no real hope of a future. Too proud a Congolese, Djo Munga won't allow us to forget or reduce his people, and too accomplished a filmmaker, he's incapable of not reminding us in the most exciting and entertaining way.
First published on Katarina's blog