Interview/Review: Director Djo Tunda Wa Munga On His Congolese Crime Thriller 'Viva Riva!'
There’s something to be said about taking the traditional crime thriller and adding in a fresh blend of ingredients such as seductive new locations or the visual fervor of a newbie director. Fortunately the sizzling new film "Viva Riva!" (hitting theaters June 10 from Music Box Films) set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the debut of writer/director Djo Tunda Wa Munga has a healthy dose both. From shantytowns to gated villas, bordellos to nightclubs, Munga memorably infuses a gorgeous cinematic style into his already highly original vision of love and crime in the Congo. Starpulse got a chance to sit down with the very exciting and talented new director to chat one-on-one about his unique visual flair, multi-faceted characters and shooting some of the films more sensuous scenes. So to celebrate all things "Viva Riva!" (also check out the review immediately following!), here’s new and exciting…
WRITER/DIRECTOR DJO TUNDA WA MUNGA!
With "Viva Riva!" being your directorial debut, how would you rate the overall experience of making the film?
Djo Tunda Wa Munga: It was a seven-year process to achieve the film and I’m so happy about how it’s going now at festivals and especially how American audiences are responding to the film. I think that something’s been accomplished – trying to defend the idea of freedom by writing the story and making the film. All the processes have been a success.
The setting of Kinshasa for such a brazen story of crime and killing is unique indeed, what made you choose it?
Djo: It’s my hometown. I wanted to make a film where the masses and audience get it and not just a complicated movie because it’s fashionable. Also film noir was popular in the period of depression, the thirties, the forties were tough and it was easier for people to relate to that. The hero, the bad guy, the femme fatal, the money are all relatable elements.
Your film has a clever blend of cool Congolese vibe with heavy crime thriller elements – were these things hard to balance together?
Djo: Yes. Most people don't talk about it, but they don't realize how difficult it was to balance the crime genre film with the documentary elements inside and still keep a level where it’s not a political statement. It was a constant fight until the last cut actually. In the editing room I was struggling – I changed editors four times because I couldn't find the right balance. The last one was a great guy and editor!
Your style for "Viva Riva!" is very reminiscent of visual directors like Michael Mann and Tony Scott. Who are some of your filmmaking influences?
Djo: Well, actually neither Michael Mann nor Tony Scott! (Laughs) But that’s fine to talk about it that way! More Sergio Leone, Akira Kurosawa, also I’m inspired by Japanese filmmaking. And the more I think about it Brian De Palma has a certain influence in my way of making the movie. Working on different levels in terms of writing and having some sequences without words, some sequences without movement – I like that.
As a character, Riva is not a typical perfect leading man and has serious flaws, so what made you write such an original and brash character as your lead?
Djo: Well, I wanted once again to portray Kinshasa in the last twenty years. People from Zaire had this over-confidence and were like, ‘We’re the richest country in the world and we are the most beautiful.’ And all these guys are penniless, but they’re dressed like kings and I wanted Riva to have that. So I wanted Riva to be a hero, but he doesn't have a gun, doesn’t kill anyone, he’s just enjoying life! (Laughs)
It was interesting to make the no-nonsense Commandant not only a woman but also a lesbian – why did you make such an interesting choice and was there ever any resistance to it?
Djo: No, because actually one of the things that is not really known…I believe that in all my friends and Congolese women I’ve met, three in five have at some point had a homosexual relationship. Also I like the Commandant because she’s a perfect character, but actually her journey is a journey of change. She really adapts to the environment and she gets into a survival mode, at some point she also wants the money and she also wants to kill for money.
What I loved about the seduction of Nora was that it took work and time for Riva to actually win her over and woo her – was that important to you when portraying the romantic side of the story?
Djo: A woman like Nora you have to be creative enough to seduce her. And so you need to do things and she’s kind of a queen almost. I think there was one line of dialogue I cut in editing where he was saying to her, “You like to see blood on your feet, huh?!” That mentality, like you have to show me that you love me and take some risk. And that is also part of this queen, this beauty queen, this femme fatale who at the end has a heart.
The love making scenes between Nora and Riva, from the sneak window seduction at the house to the sensual tub sex, were hot as hell – can you talk about shooting them?
Djo: We had that discussion with the actors at some point where they said, ‘Are we going to do it like it’s written in the script?’ I said, ‘Yes! Listen you guys - this is what you’re doing here. This is the first film in Lingala and the first production in like the last twenty-five years. We have a responsibility to represent reality properly.’ And then actually one of the actors said, ‘We’re kind of like pioneers.’ And that’s true. So as soon as they got that, everyone was good to go. And it was a long process to shoot - imagine sitting in the water for hours - but I wanted to do it right.
What can we look forward to next from you?
Djo: I would love to make this Congo Chinese production. A Congo Chinese story about a detective coming from China from mainland trying to catch Chinese gangsters that he’s been chasing for years and years and then he comes to Kinshasa and he realizes these gangsters have become bigger.
I can’t wait!
Djo: (Laughs) I can't either!
That's it folks - but check out my review below!
Title: "Viva Riva!"
Genre: Action, Crime Drama, Thriller
Cast: Patsha Bay Mukuna, Manie Malone, Marlene Longange
Director: Djo Tunda Wa Munga
Running Time: 96 minutes
Release Company: Music Box Films
Foreign or not, there a real authentic flair to "Viva Riva!" that has the distinct feeling of fresh. Be it the various Congolese locations, the equally powerful yet flawed cast of characters or the violent, sexy and magnetic style of new writer/director Djo Tunda Wa Munga, the movie definitely marks the arrival of something cinematically special.
Riva is a small time operator who has returned home to Kinshasa, Congo after almost a decade away. Armed with a cocky stride and a fortune in hijacked gasoline, Riva goes out in search of both trouble and a good time and soon finds it in the form of the sexy Nora, a gal of a local mobster. Carefree and reckless, Riva soon gets more then he bargains for when he finds that not only is Nora’s keeper hot on his tail, but the Angolan’s he stole the gas from and local authorities to boot.
The set up for Viva Riva’s not rocket science (it does contain traditional crime thriller elements!), but it’s what Munga does with his creative little flick that makes the difference. The film’s characters are wholly original, each having both strengths (Manie Malone’s Nora is one creative and feisty femme fatal!) and weaknesses (Patsha Bay Mukuna’s Riva has a severe case of over-confidence!) that give a much more relatable vibe to the flick. (Munga even boldly makes a military commandant both a woman and a lesbian!) Plus both the exotic and more seedy Congolese locations add a distinctive finesse that only serves to compliment Munga’s breathtaking visual palate (the love scene between sparing would-be-lovers Nora and Riva is so sensual, so sexy and so hot that it puts 9 ½ Weeks to shame!) – this is the work of a talent to watch.
Viva Riva! is the first Congolese feature in the Lingala language (don’t let that detour – originality has one language!) to be released in the U.S. and it’s not hard to see why. Taking a done-to-death genre and reviving it successfully with new life is a feat only achieved by those filmmaking few who possess strong cinematic prowess - Djo Tunda Wa Munga is one.
"Viva Riva!" hits select theaters on June 10 from Music Box Films.