An immaculately dressed man adorned in azure feathers stands against a cloud of blue smoke holding a bouquet of flowers. The man’s gaze commands the camera as a soft voice whispers “bleu de nuit” – “midnight blue” – over a kalimba rhythm. This is the opening scene of Congolese-Belgian musician Baloji’s latest music video Peau de Chagrin / Bleu de Nuit, taken from his album 137 Avenue Kaniama. Conceptualised and directed by Baloji and photographed by Kristin-Lee Moolman, Peau de Chagrin / Bleu de Nuit is a dreamscape of electric hues and intriguing characters. Although Baloji’s career is now firmly cemented within the music industry, the singer’s strengths stretch across creative disciplines. “I’m a visual artist when I work as a film and art director and sometimes even a stylist when funds are tight,” Baloji tells It’s Nice That.
Peau de Chagrin / Bleu de Nuit follows a bride and groom during the hours leading up to their wedding. Baloji avoids a linear narrative, creating instead a series of metaphorical images that condense fleeting impressions into unsettling emotions. “Many shots depict an absent partner, which implies that one of them has gone back on their promises; changed their mind. The film illustrates this allegorically, showing the two protagonists alone in their wedding finery in front of the ceremonial installations. The backdrops become clearer as the cloud of yellowish smoke dissipates,” Baloji explains. These wedding frames, seeped as they are in vegetal embellishments, construct a theatrical stage that allows Baloji to play out his symbolic tales of love, lust and eventual apathy.
The hand-crafted masks worn by the characters throughout the film further highlight Baloji’s desired dramatic effect. As the figures wait in vain, “the masks come to represent the love that becomes a ghost. In this way, the masks separate the symbolically-charged waiting shots from the more figurative parts of the video,” Baloji says. This contrast is made all the more poignant by the intricately decorated wooden backdrops, which draw on Pygmy culture and its visually rich wedding rituals; “the installations are historically used as altars for wedding ceremonies,” the artist explains. In drawing on a long-established tradition, Baloji emphasises the pain felt by the lonesome character waiting at the altar and transforms a conventionally celebratory occasion into a harrowing betrayal.
Peau de Chagrin / Bleu de Nuit is an aesthetic triumph; vibrant, atmospheric and undeniably compelling. When asked how the final outcome compares to his initial visions, Baloji admits that “it’s pretty close. We just didn’t have time to shoot everything. I made sure to be extremely prepared since the budget was very low. I knew the whole shooting list by heart, which meant we could focus our attention on the acting on set.”