- CANNES 2023: Baloji delivers a dizzying and visually intoxicating first feature film about the intertwined fates of four banished souls in an ultra-modern African world
The fate of four exiled souls in an ultra-modern African world intertwine in Omen [+see also:
film profile], the first feature film by Belgian artist and director of Congolese origin Baloji, which is screening in the Un Certain Regard section of the 76th Cannes Film Festival.
Koffi is about to become a father. Hi wife is expecting twins. As such, in order to honour his family and his origins, he decides to return to the Congo after an 18-year-long exile to pay the dowry and maybe settle some family conflicts. But this Palm Sunday homecoming takes an unexpected turn. Far from a triumphant reception, it’s a glacial welcome which awaits Koffi, who’s reminded of his status as a Zabolo: he who bears the mark of the devil. It’s a label he can’t shake off and which he shares with Paco, a young shégué on the other side of town who’s haunted by his little sister’s death and mired in a gang war which is preventing him from grieving. They are witch children, cursed sons who need to be exorcised.
Tshala and Mujila, Koffi’s sister and mother, are the witches in question. There’s no real reason for their forced identity, just accusations. It’s an indelible mark, given since birth in Koffi’s case, which condemns them to fight against the role people want them to play. They’re accused of being possessed, but what they actually are is haunted, by the ghosts of their past and by those versions of themselves which others aspire to, but which they will never be: a "good mother", the "perfect wife", the "prodigal son", a "good man".
While Koffi attempts a dramatic return, wandering from the foothills of the open air mines where his dad works to the family home where the door is slammed in his face, Tshala, for her part, is planning to leave and head south of the continent. It’s a whole other space-time which engulfs them here, another reality, a fiery place forbidden to them. Initially a background character, as if sketched out to better impress the backdrop on the audience, Mujila ends up taking control of the story and revealing her own personal truth.
The struggle which these four characters share, to free themselves from injunctions and imposed identities, resonates with the phantasmagorical tableaux dotted throughout the tale, packing a strong symbolic punch and exacerbating emotions. The characters seem haunted by the impossibility of mourning and by virtual doubles, what’s expected of them and what they will never be, the filmmaker too perhaps, who manages to convey these obsessions whilst leaving room for the audience to project their own doubts. The troubling visual beauty of the world depicted by the filmmaker - well served by an artistic direction approach that’s as singular as it is spectacular - enters into dialogue with the trajectory of these four heroes, played remarkably by Marc Zinga (seen in Cannes last year via Tori and Lokita [+see also:
interview: Joely Mbundu
interview: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
film profile]), Eliane Umuhire (previously showcased on the Croisette in 2021’s Neptune Frost), the incredible Yves-Marina Gnahoua (a theatre actress who starred in the hard-hitting documentary That Which Does Not Kill [+see also:
interview: Alexe Poukine
film profile]) and young Marcel Otete Kabeya in his first role.
Omen is produced by Wrong Men (Belgium), in co-production with New Amsterdam Film Company (the Netherlands), Tosala Films (D.R. Congo), Special Touch Studios (France), Radical Media (Germany), Serendipity (Belgium) and Big World Cinema (South Africa). International sales are entrusted to Memento.
(Translated from French)
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