Can someone please tell me why we are still obsessing about crime fiction and film from places like Scandinavia when there is so much interesting material coming out of Africa and Asia?
I ask this because last week I saw the 2010 Congolese crime film, Viva Riva! and thought it was great.
Viva Riva! is set in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The nearly three-decade rule of Mobutu Sese Seko, Africa’s most corrupt despot (and that’s saying something) is over, and the city is recovering from brutal street fighting in the aftermath of the disputed 2006 elections.
Small-time gangster, Riva, has returned from neighbouring Angola with a truckload of stolen petrol. Kinshasa is in the middle of a fuel shortage. Riva and his crew aim to get rich quick by selling the lot at top dollar.
Hot on his trail is Cesar, an enforcer for the Angolan interests Riva has stolen the fuel from. Cesar wants the petrol back and proceeds to cut a bloody swathe through Kinshasa to get it. Helping Cesar is the Commandant, a female Congalese military commander whose sister is being held captive by the Angolans.
Everyone in this film is on the make, whether it’s for money, sex, food, or safety. And everyone is corrupt. The police, the military, even the local priest who negotiates to buy the fuel using the money raised from the church’s congregation. “Priests need gasoline too, alas,” he tells Riva.
Riva doesn’t care. Like Tony Montanna in the 1983 Brian De Palma classic Scarface he is prepared to do anything to get ahead and thinks nothing of complicating his problems by going after Nora, the girlfriend of Azor, one of Kinshasa’s most feared crime bosses.
Kinshasa is a sprawling, jerry built city with no power and no petrol, full of slums interspersed with areas of sun bleached French colonial architecture. Street kids play along the unpaved roads. At night the place looks incredibly dark and forbidding.
I can’t remember a city so ominously portrayed in a crime film. It reminds me of post-civil war Phnom Penh in the early nineties, only way more dangerous
Viva Riva! is not for the faint hearted. The body count is high and there are some graphic sex scenes. And while aspects of it a little clichéd, the film has an incredible energy and feel to it, helped by a fantastic African soundtrack.
The film was written and directed by Djo Munga (who cites his chief influences as Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leonne) and received 12 nominations and won 6 awards at the 7th African Movie Academy Awards in 2011, including the awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography & Best Production Design.
It left me wondering how many other crime movies set in Africa are out there I’ve never heard of.
Viva Riva! is playing this coming Thursday, August 4 at 9pm as part of MIFF Crime Scene program.