Omen is the International Feature submission for Belgium. Koffi is a young Congolese man who’s been living in Europe for the past couple of decades. Along with his fiancee, Alice, they’re heading back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hoping that everything will go well on the trip, he’s been taking Swahili lessons and he’s shaved his hair in order to comply with the norms of the country. He hopes to make amends with his family by offering a dowry. Alice is pregnant with twins and he’s hoping that his family, especially his mother and father, will accept the marriage.
Upon arriving to Kinshasa, his sister forgets to pick up the couple at the airport. Koffi and Alice decide to rent a car and head to the Kepesa Mines, where his father works. They want to talk to him first before meeting the rest of the family. Unfortunately he’s not working that day. They head over to Koffi’s mother’s home to an unimpressed crowd of family members. They criticize his hair, his appearance and make unfair remarks to his white fiancee. Koffi tries to bond with his newborn nephew, as the mother reluctantly allows him to hold the baby. After a nosebleed causes Koffi to spill blood on the child, it sets the family into a panicked frenzy, where they bring the local priest for cleansing and accountability. He’s quickly labelled as the devil.
Omen illustrates the wide divide between modernity and tradition in African societies, touching mainly on witchcraft. The various aspects of African culture, rites and religion are all depicted stylishly. The film flows from reality to magical realism creating vivid scenarios of life and death. Calling something witchcraft is a way to exercise control over it, to push out different feelings and desires from an overly constrictive way of life.
It’s unreal to comprehend that hundreds of thousands of individuals are accused of witchcraft every year. The accusations usually stem from bogus preachers or self-described psychics who claim to be able to detect witches. The victims are usually those who are considered to be different, like albinos, or HIV children, or those who suffer from seizures, nosebleeds, or anything that can be perceived as a danger to the traditions of their villages. The exorcism rituals include incarceration, starvation, being expelled to the streets, or killed.
Koffi is just one example of an individual who was branded as a bad omen for being born with a birthmark on his cheek. His consequence was being banished from his household and being forced to start anew in a different continent.