Year Released: 2023
Runtime: 1h 30m
Writer(s): Baloji, Thomas van Zuylen
Cast: Marc Zinga, Lucie Debay, Eliane Umuhire, Yves-Marina Gnahoua, Marcel Otete Kabeya
Where To Watch: premiering May 22 at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival
RAVING REVIEW: Fasten your seatbelts as we plunge into the mesmerizing realm of OMEN (no, not that one), a film extravaganza set in the cultural nucleus of Kinshasa. The narrative, bursting with African mysticism, stitches together four unique journeys, each character wrestling with societal labels of who they are. This cinematic embroidery is a stimulating blend of faith, fate, and nuance, creating an absorbing experience that is hard to explain.
Leading this brilliant character ensemble is Koffi, played by Marc Zinga, as he retraces his lineage back to Kinshasa after spending some time in Belgium. His return provides a launchpad to examine African traditions and their unique stance on witchcraft. This element of the supernatural extends beyond the realm of just a plot device, becoming a metaphor for highlighting a cultural divide.
Baloji, the director whose personal experiences significantly influence the film’s narrative, is at the heart of the movie's journey. His Swahili name, 'sorcerer,' has ignited fear and misunderstanding in many. These experiences ignited a fascination within Baloji, which resonates in Koffie's story, representing societal alienation stemming from misinterpreted traditions.
However, OMEN continues beyond Koffi's story, offering a sweeping view of life, shown through these stories of individuals with similar experiences. Meet Tshala (Eliane Umuhire) and Mujila (Yves-Marina Gnahoua); their narratives reflect societal attitudes toward women associated with witchcraft. The film pulls back the curtain on the gendered bias in superstitions, focusing on how the female characters shoulder a much heavier societal burden.
Paco (Marcel Otete Kabeya), a castaway by his family, braves the reality of life on the street. He turns the 'sorcerer' tag on its head, morphing it from a curse into a survival tool, captivating the public with his creative use of visual tricks. Paco's narrative echoes Baloji's own life, as the director reclaims his label, once representing an enlightened 'man of science' before the colonial intervention, converting it into a magical influence driving his cinematic craft.
Before slipping into the director's shoes, Baloji donned many roles – from fruit picker to a member of the acclaimed Belgian hip-hop group, Starflam. Living above a video store, Baloji's daily immersion into cinema sowed the seeds of his filmmaking ambition, flourishing amidst his eclectic interests in music, fashion, and art.
While working on OMEN, Baloji looked into his past, acknowledging the significant correlation between film and music. He produced four distinct soundtracks for the film, each providing an added layer to the narrative, deepening the character's histories and aiding the actors in embracing these roles. OMEN is also a testament to cultural diversity, combining elements from Central African tradition, Belgium's Binche carnival, and the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans.
Baloji's switch from music to film, underscored by his inclusion in the esteemed Cannes Festival, is an ode to his ability to adapt and excel.
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[photo courtesy of THE PR FACTORY/WRONG MEN]