Article by Federico Lionetti

Translation by Martina Agostino

The young protagonist (Marc Zinga) and his pregnant girlfriend (Lucy Debay) fly from Belgium to Congo to reestablish their relationship with his family. However, he has to face the prejudice caused by a birthmark on his face – a bad omen, according to the local tradition, which has negatively affected his life since he was a child. 

This is the very beginning of Augure, the opening film of the “Crazies” section of the 41st Turin Film Festival, and the first feature film by the eclectic artist Baloji, a Belgian graphic designer and musician from Congo. During the scenes of this family drama, the director tackles the spectacularity of the human bodies of a small local group, thereby depicting the colors and customs of a culture somewhere between actual African tradition and the director’s phantasmagorical inventiveness. A visual staging that crosses the boundaries of the mundane, taking us toward the magic of the fairy tale and the anxiety of the unconscious.

Baloji tries to unveil, etch and emphasize the actors’ bodies, as symbolic networks on which the family and local society weave their superstitions, rituals and fears. Bodies cursed by devil’s marks or invisible infections, such as the omen on the protagonist’s face or his sister’s (Eliane Umuhire) venereal disease, are put on stage, including the embellished bodies of some teenagers fighting in opposing groups for the pleasure of the power game – bodies impaled with carnivalesque costumes that adorn the physiques of new imaginary worlds. Moreover, the body of the mother (Yves-Marina Gnahoua) is staged as she tries to suppress in vain the mourning of a double absence, that of a missing husband and that of a son ostracized by the family – her wanderings finally brings her to a deserted expanse in flames, similar in spirit but physically different, land of fire on which Bergman’s existential dismay was reflected in Rossellini’s Stromboli (Land of God). In front of these bodies and faces  many masks are imposed – from ritual, carnivalesque masks to facial masks for facial cleansing. Characters in the story wear these masks as defense and display of the self: objects that serve as much as a hiding place from the scrutinizing gaze of society just like an ephemeral exhibition of themselves.

Whether painted or masked, mottled or defiled, the bodies put on display by Baloji are layers of social meanings, culturally ordered and artistically shaped by the director’s poetic vision. An ode to the artistic imagination that collides and feeds off the rigidity of traditions.

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