Baloji • Director of Omen
“Everything you can find in a family is a reflection of society”
by Teresa Vena
- CANNES 2023: The Belgian-Congolese director takes us on a unique trip through the traditions and beliefs of the Democratic Republic of Congo
Omen [+see also:
film profile] by Baloji has premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of this year's Cannes Film Festival. The film takes the viewer on a unique trip through the traditions and beliefs of the Democratic Republic of Congo, while also being able to resonate with audiences from all over the world. We talked to the director about his inspiration for the story and his aesthetic choices.
Cineuropa: How would you describe the film? As a drama, a thriller, a black comedy or a science-fiction movie? Or is it everything all at once?
Baloji: It’s everything all at once. For each point of view, I searched for a different approach. So, of course, each character has their own language and their own visuals. We switch from one to the other.
How did you sell the film to producers and funding institutions?
It was very difficult to write a synopsis, but I sold it as the story of the character of Koffie and his return to Congo. This was the idea of the film, in part. Actually, for me, he is not the main protagonist of the story any more. I got more and more interested in the voices of the other characters, who do not have the luxury of being able to come and go in the same way he does. The real victims in this world are the ones who can't leave. That’s why the movie ends with the character of Koffie's sister: she is the real subject of it.
How much of your own experience is in the story?
Not that much, actually. You might think that Koffie is my double, but he is not. Koffie is apparently the main protagonist, but he isn't, in reality. His storyline ends after 20 minutes. What is personal and extremely dear to me is being considered a sorcerer. My name, Baloji, means “man of sciences”, semantically. With the Christians arriving in Africa, it became “man of black magic”, “man of black science” or “healer”. In the last few years, it has become a synonym for sorcerer, so it is basically the same as being called “devil” or “demon”. It's not an easy name to live with.
What statement did you intend to make with the story?
The more I reflected on witchcraft and on all the ways that society finds to define and fight against so-called witches, the more I wanted to focus on that instead of talking about something that would represent me, in particular. Being a 35-year-old woman and not having children is considered “not right”, and that can be the case in Africa as well as in Europe. These women might be called witches too readily. It's there that the patriarchal structures kick in. I like to show that, especially through the mother in the film.
The topic of family is one of the most important in the film.
I think the family is like a laboratory of society. Everything you can find in a family is a reflection of society. So it means you have to fight and accept the same things as you do in society on a bigger scale.
Did you also work with non-professional actors?
The cast is a mix of non-professional and professional actors. It was a pleasure to be able to work with so many talented people.
Did you have a precise idea of how the characters had to look in the film?
I think I had an idea, but I still had to accept that sometimes things don’t go according to plan, so I had to go with the flow. There are definitely directors who try to fix and control things as much as they can, but in my opinion, films and actors are organic material that have to, and will, change throughout the process.
Can you tell us more about your concept for the sound design?
I wanted each character to have their own sound, their own colour and their own look. Pink, for example, was more for filming with the camera on the shoulder, more for running, while orange should bring to mind the soil. For Koffie, I had more of a steady camera and a sound design that would keep the character alert. For his sister, I searched for a look and sound that recalled TV soap operas.
Where did you find the inspiration for the street performances?
It's a mix between New Orleans culture and some elements from the Belgian carnival. We made that up, and it was very entertaining. I think making films is a very hard job for all involved, so it makes sense to also have some fun while working. I like this playfulness. I have a motto: “Work with the spirit of a child who is having fun.”
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