The craziest movies we could find on Netflix this week : Burt Reynolds as a revenge-fueled Injun, a murdered ghost pimp possessing mild-mannered folks and a wild gangster flick set in the unlikeliest of locales.
Imagine you’re standing at the counter and I’m waiting for you to speak. You open your mouth and out come the words, “Show me something I’ve never seen before.” I think I just might able to help you with that.
If you want to see a film from a country you’ve never seen one from before: Viva Riva! (2011, Djo Munga)
Funny how a change of venue can liven up a stock situation. There’s a lot that’s familiar about Viva Riva! — the loudmouth hustler in over his head, the femme fatale, the dangerously violent antagonist, the ever-shifting loyalties. You know, basic gutter noir stuff: Our lead, Riva, has stolen from some Angolan business associates and while they try to track him down, Riva’s boundless confidence leads him to doggedly pursue slinky redhead Nora (Manie Malone), whom he encounters at a party one night; this unquenchable desire puts him at odds with Nora’s paramour, local gangster Azor (Diplome Amekindra). Much bloodletting and gunfire ensues. The setting, though, is unique — Viva Riva! is set in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Repuplic of the Congo, and that makes the difference. It’s not just a case of slapping a new coat of paint on an old car and thinking that’ll make it run differently; writer/director Djo Munga does a careful job of tying the pulpy plot and its stakes into the reality of the surroundings.
It helps that Riva is a persistent and fairly charming bastard – the kind of guy who’s smart enough to get himself into this situation and to realize after a point that there isn’t a way out of it, yet motivated enough to keep pushing forward anyway. (He’s also the kind of guy who, in an eye-popping scene, can apparently motivate a woman to offer him oral sex through a window frame.) Once the two major threads (the Angolans and the Nora/Azor/Riva triangle) start converging, all that can be done is watch things fall inexorably into place. The bodies and betrayals pile up, the air gets thick with panic and greed and desperation starts to inform every character’s moves. Munga’s energetic direction keeps things lively, and his screenplay gets a lot of mileage out of its sensational sleaze, but the end point is not a lively one. It’s not that kind of story, and the parts of Kinshasa we see are not that kind of environment. Look at that title. See the exclamation point. Is that excitement or defiance there?