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Congolese Belgian Rapper-Turned-Filmmaker Baloji Looks for Good ‘Omen’ With Cannes Debut

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Christopher Vourlias What’s in a name? For the Congolese Belgian rapper-turned-filmmaker Baloji, whose directorial debut, “Omen,” bows in the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section on May 22, it’s a question that poses itself whenever flustered immigration officials inspect his passport at the airport in Congo. “Always the same question, every time,” Baloji tells Variety. “Do you know what it means?” In the pre-colonial era, baloji meant “man of science” in Swahili, but the word became corrupted by Christian evangelists during the years of Belgian colonial rule.

Today it is more akin to a man of occult sciences and sorcery. “Some people of faith do not dare to say my name in public for fear of invoking evil spirits and the suspicions that may accompany it,” the director says. “In such an animistic culture it is equivalent to being called devil or demon in the West.” He admits it took a long time for him to come to terms with the stigma attached to that moniker, acknowledging now, “That name influenced the person I am.” Nowhere is that clearer than in Baloji’s startling directorial debut, a kaleidoscopic portrait of four characters accused of witchcraft that uses arresting visuals and magical-realist flourishes to blur the line between fantasy and reality.

The film centers on Koffi, played by Marc Zinga (“Tori and Lokita,” “Dheepan”), a Belgian man who returns to his native Congo to make peace with his estranged family while struggling to navigate the traditions of his ancestral land.

Pic is produced by Belgian company Wrong Men (“Zero Fucks Given,” “Annette”) and co-produced by Tosala Films, New Amsterdam, Special Touch Studios, Serendipity, RadicalMedia and Big World Cinema.

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