The opening montage quickly establishes the mood: a bustling African street; hands rifling through a wad of bills; gasoline poured into a makeshift funnel—everything suffused with gritty angst and palpable desperation. And then—most visceral—a close-up of lips sucking on a rubber tube, causing fuel to flow into a large plastic jug. The liquid is so precious that the siphoner spits his mouthful into the container. The restless camera moves on, floating above the open hole of a vehicle’s gas tank before plunging into its blackness. Cue title card.
Meet Riva (the spectacular Patsha Bay), a man who thrives on scarcity: he smuggles gas, and has recently come upon a mother lode—which becomes, of course, a powder keg. Literally fleshing things out is Nora (the equally spectacular Manie Malone). She catches Riva’s eye, but unfortunately belongs to Azor, a crime boss who gives new meaning to the word ruthless (he’s played by Diplome Amekindra, and, yes, he’s outrageous).
Driven by the same ticking-time-bomb tension that propels so many American genre flicks (or even a beloved HBO television series), it’s a bit startling to consider that Djo Tunda Wa Munga’s film is bred-in-the-bone Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. After watching Viva Riva!, this will be one DRC city you won’t want to visit in a hurry—unless you happen to travel in the secure comfort of the completely corrupt.