?Djo Tunda Wa Munga: ?Hong Kong meets Kinshasa – Film

By Alexander Macbeth

Posted on June 17, 2011 14:37

Award-winning Viva Riva! brings a new brand of cinema to Africa’s movie screens

Viva Riva! breaks taboos with impetuous fluency, bringing explicit sex and violence faster than a kung-fu film to the African screen. The feature-length début by Congolese director Djo Tunda Wa Munga was nominated for the best director and best film at the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in March. The film took those awards and four more.

It follows Riva, an oil trader, who made it big in Angola for 10 years and returns to drown his fortunes in the bustling bars of Kinshasa. But as he drinks oil money and flirts with the wives of underworld warlords, Riva’s past begins to catch up with him in the form of Cesar, a sadistic Angolan gangster played brilliantly by Hoji Fortuna. Cesar brings all the tempo of 1990s Hong Kong film Hard Boiled to the plot, casually killing a priest, a prison manager and a cohort of civilians as he tracks Riva through Kinshasa’s nightlife. In a morally corrupt society, in which the army, the church and the state have their price, the underworld rules.

“When I was thinking about making this film,” says Munga, “I thought about taking a soft, more conservative approach. But then I’ve never known how many films I will have the chance to make.” Why so much sex in the film? “I won’t say there should be more sexuality in films,” says Munga. “But there should be licence to put in what is necessary. I take that licence because there are so many problems in our society linked to sexuality and not many people talk about it.”

Part film noir, part gangster-thriller, Viva Riva! brings a harsh yet resolute image of Kinshasa. Munga’s influences range from Hong Kong cinema to Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and Italy’s Sergio Leone. He says he could not have made Viva Riva! without the people of Kinshasa and their generosity in all aspects of the production – from acting to location management, where he was lent homes, cars and businesses. “In how many other cities, I wonder, could we have found such cooperation?” asks Munga.

Munga plans to conquer the age-old problem of distribution through what he calls “self-distribution”. “We’re looking at the possibilities of renting spaces, screening Viva Riva! with pre-sold tickets and so on. There are no cinemas, so it will have to start somewhere.” Despite the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) continuing civil conflict and the country’s lack of acting schools and cinemas, Munga is enthusiastic about future productions. He has another thriller in pre-­production, which he plans to shoot in the DRC and release in 2013.

In Viva Riva!, a child wading through gang warfare is the moral anchor of the film. “This youth and energy will allow us to catch up,” says Munga. “It’s true that independence was 50 years ago but did we have the economic know-how, the knowledge and the ability to harmonise our talents at that time? I see that period as a pre-history to an independence which starts now.”?Viva Riva! will be released on 27 May in the UK and 10 June in the USA.

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