Baloji Constructed ‘Omen’, His Feature Debut And Belgium’s Oscar Entry, Using A Wall Of Mirrors – Contenders International

Baloji Constructed ‘Omen’, His Feature Debut And Belgium’s Oscar Entry, Using A Wall Of Mirrors – Contenders International

Omen is the official submission from Belgium for the International Feature Oscar category and comes from multi-hyphenate interdisciplinary artist Baloji, who makes his feature directing debut. The film had its world premiere in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section this year where it won the New Voice Prize, before going on to play myriad festivals. Utopia is the North American distributor.

Omen uses magical realism to examine the intricacies of identity, culture and belief systems. It kicks off with, and often returns to, the story of Koffi (Marc Zinga), a young Congolese man who has spent years living in Belgium. With his pregnant wife in tow, he returns to his birthplace of Kinshasa to confront his family and homeland culture. But secrecy and sorcery erupt when a nosebleed is mistaken for a curse.

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His family includes independent spirit sister Tshala played by Eliane Umuhire, and mother Mama Mujila (Yves-Marina Gnahoua). Along with street kid Paco (Marcel Otete Kabeya), a quartet of mirrored characters emerges.

The film’s modern narrative employs four main characters to reach back to the past and look into the future. “I didn’t want to make a movie about Koffi, I didn’t want to make a movie about going home,” Baloji said during a panel alongside Umuhire at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International. “Koffi is part of the privilege, he has a passport, he can go back to Europe even if it’s difficult for him. He has a wife and he’s about to become a parent which is not the case for his mom.”

Mama Mujila “doesn’t know that she has the freedom to make decisions for herself, and I thought it was interesting that we think that she’s the mean person, but at the end of the day we understand that she’s the first victim and what I tried to do is have mirrors…  So you have Koffi who is mirrored by Paco the street kid… There is one who feels almost religious guilt which is Koffi, and Paco is basically telling everybody, ‘If you treat me like a dog, I will bite you like a dog,’ and he embraces the fact that people take him as a sorcerer.”

Tshala, on the other hand, “is considered by society as a witch because she doesn’t want to give brith, she decides to have a different way of dealing with relationships, with intimacy — and what is interesting is that Mama Mujila is mirroring her and she doesn’t know that she has that freedom as well because she’s so trapped in these misogynistic rules that she doesn’t allow herself to think on her own.”

At one point Umuhire’s Tshala goes to a witch doctor to treat an STD. Said Umuhire, “Even though she’s modern and emancipated, there is a part of her that is still spiritual and still respects her culture.”

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When working on the character, Umuhire thought, “Yes of course she is into the modernity, she is emancipated she is working on her future and how she projects herself in the future but in the same time she keeps her feet in the culture, she doesn’t push away everything she doesn’t judge everyone.”

Baloji also recorded four albums of music for the characters, though this does not appear in the film. Explaining his reasoning, he said, “Shooting the film I thought if we add all this music it will be overwhelming, too much information, too much layers… But I have to say that the music was a companion for the cast and for all the departments.”

Umuhire had “goosebumps” when she heard the separate music. “It explained more about Tshala’s view and her mother’s view,” and also helped grasp “the place that Baloji puts himself into putting himself into the place of a woman, really feeling what it is being a woman with all of the subjects that we deal with on an everyday life.”

Check out the panel video above.

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