This new film from the Democratic Republic of Congo is set in its capital, Kinshasa, here presented as a chaotic city of hustlers, casual sex and easy violence. One thing Kinshasa does lack is gasoline, and a heisted truck of fuel barrels is the spark that sets the story in motion. The rogueish but charming Riva (Patasha Bay) has stolen the truck from some Angolan gangsters, led by the quietly lethal Cesar (Hoji Fortuna), who has crossed the border to retrieve it. Partying it up with his new cash (U.S. dollars, the preferred currency of the black market), Riva has set his sights on Nora (Manie Malone), the slinky, bratty mistress of a Congolese crime lord (Diplome Amekindra).
Yet despite its exotic locale and characters, Viva Riva is a familiar story, in which low-level gangsters bungle their big scores, beat up women, get in fights and fail to make it to the closing credits alive. Everybody -- even family men and clergy -- are out for themselves, scheming and double-crossing with casual ruthlessness.
Djo Munga's film, something of a light-hearted noir, packs plenty of sex and violence, and its fast pace, shoot-outs and naked women should satisfy fans of the gangster genre. Undoubtedly, Munga is also suggesting that this microcosm of lawlessness, sexism, corruption and nihilism represents the big picture in the deeply troubled Congo. The best-educated character, Nora, spells it out: "In this country, money is like poison. In the end, it always kills you." But like many entertaining gangster pics, Viva Riva makes a lot of this awfulness look more awesome than horrifying. In Lingala and French, with subtitles. Starts Fri., July 29. Harris