This is a meditation not so much on social mores and all things niggy, it's an observation from one cinema fiend to another, when was the last time you saw a memorable love scene in an African film and I use the description African film to mean a film set in Africa and features a predominantly African cast retelling a story that espouses African beliefs and world views the latter and former are plural in keeping with a society that is polytheistic and multicultural?
I ask this question because I recently watched Viva Riva and was haunted by it's imagery and depiction of life in modern day Kinshasa although it could be set in any teeming sprawling urban metropolis on this continent. Before I saw this film i could not think of a memorable love scene in African cinema. I wonder why that is? Well I guess it has something to do with the fact we are in the main coy when talking about sex in Uganda it took the HIV Aids pandemic to change attitudes about sex when it became clear that ignorance about sex in general and the disease (its still called the disease)in particular was the main cause of death and still is.
Still that does little to explain how unprepared I was for what has been described as
gratuitous sex and violence by some critics not including Hon. Nsaba Buturo ex minister of ethics renowned for his anally retentive disposition. The thing about love scenes in cinema and what marks them from soft porn is the poetry, what the audience doesn't see or hear,think Last Tango in Paris. The camera is not intrusive in a bid to empathize with the passions of the characters.Supafly and in particular the love scenes with Miss Fraiser and Supafly himself come to mind. What happens in Viva Riva is the director oscillates between the sensual leave as much to the imagination as possible school emulating European tastes and detached attitudes to sex like in Last Tango in Paris, as well as the raunchy leave a little less to the imagination of 1970s African American cinema as seen in Supafly. For the first encounter between Riva the lead character and his muse, the director leaves little to the imagination imposing on the viewer a vision that is at once arresting and immediate causing one to ask whether they were acting,suspending disbelief in this case is as easily said as it's done, the director shows you how our protagonists passions boil over as opposed to letting you imagine their rapture and the mood changes for the next encounter between the same protagonists by now better acquainted and with more time to spend together, the director reverts to a vision that is coy, as the song says the first cut is the deepest. This treatment adds variety that is... aesthetically pleasing but also helps the plot along.
I can't speak of variety without mentioning the first love scene in the film, it's a lesbian love scene another first for African cinema as far as I know and I stand corrected.It is handled coyly and fans the flames sparked by the chemistry between the two protagonists.This scene brought to mind the chemistry between Jennifer Tilley and Gina Gershon in Bound. It is a rare feat this Viva Riva, a vision to light your way through times of load shedding but.... don't take my word for it, go see it yourself.