With the price of gas skyrocketing, American audiences might revere Riva, a small-time operator who returns home after 10 years away to Kinshasa, Congo, with a fortune in hijacked gasoline. “Viva Riva!,” the first feature-length film from Congolese writer-director Djo Tunda, is not that different from a typical stateside gangster flick, delivering all the girls and guns that American film fans demand.

Tunda spoke with Express about his film’s explicit content and his cinematic idols, including Italian “spaghetti western” director Sergio Leone.

Boy, there’s sure a lot of sex in this movie.
This is true. There’s something, a guilt about sexuality [in Kinshasa]. We don’t talk about it, and that may be the reason. We are quite conservative, but at the same time prostitution in Kinshasa is really high. At 8 or 9 o’clock you go downtown, you see prostitutes everywhere. There’s a contradiction there which we should dig into. Of course, as a filmmaker, I’ve been influenced by a certain kind of movie, but, still, in terms of culture, it was important to put it on the table.

Was Quentin Tarantino an influence at all?
When people say the film is like Tarantino in Kinshasa or [“Top Gun" director] Tony Scott, what I think we have in common is that we were probably all fans of Sergio Leone. He’s the source. He’s the type of director that brought to the cinema a very noir vision of life.

Are you trying to spark a dialogue when the Angolan character (Caesar) chasing Riva says about the Congolese people, “Maybe you should have remained colonized?”
With Caesar and the Angolans, I wanted to talk about the racism amongst Africans. There is this idea that some people think it was better in colonial times because the roads were better or the construction was working. They forget that they were actually slaves in those times and the people maintaining these roads and things were still the Congolese. Just the system was different.

You manage to find time for humor between the sex and violence.
When you make a gangster movie, when you’re dealing with this type of violence, humor creates a distance. It gives a little space to say this is not a documentary. It’s a thriller; it’s a film.

» Landmark E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW; opens Fri., $11; 202-452-7672, Landmarktheatres.com. (Metro Center)

Photo Courtesy Music Box Films