Well done, Burkina! Review: The fashion-driven myth is all dressed up with nowhere to go

A myth of immigration without intervention, Well done, Burkina! strikes most vividly in its sense of style. Following the pendulum swing of a Burkinabe boy, from village kite to Italian fashion designer and back again, writer/director Walé Oyéjidé has also dressed his cast through his brand Ikire Jones. Although it has the stilted acting, slow pace, on-the-nose dialogue and lazily elliptical storytelling of a rookie filmmaker, Well done, Burkina! always wear something amazing. For all its travels, around the world and through time, the cute film feels all dressed up with nowhere to go.

The main idea of Well done, Burkina! is a romance between our guide on this trip, Aimé (played over time by Mousty Mbaye, Alain Tiendrebeogo and Noël Minoungou), and a woman we met in Italy, Asma (played the same way by Aissata Deme and Hafissata Coulibaly). Their loosely defined lives connect through a shared mush of diasporic emotions: guilt, excitement, grief. The view from a tower over an old-world European cityscape is stunning, as are the lush, busy patterns on the clothes it has to offer, but so is the village of Aimé in Burkina Faso. There is something liberating about being away from your community, but it will always miss the vital caress of home.

Navigating Oyejide’s allegorical tale, which functions as a lying refutation of the “grass is always greener” desire of young globetrotters, is not difficult, but it is so extensively drawn in its brief 64 minutes that it is difficult to get much out of them. Its fantasy moments are slow and over-spelled, and its more symbolic elements – like a group of other immigrants Aimé and Asma encounter behind bars – are as flat as its characters. The only consistent guideline is the pop of bold looks.

Aimé wears something different and amazing every time he’s on screen. There are so many cuts that it’s almost like an hour-long lookbook, with the actors modeling flowing coats made of carpet-like textures, bright silky shirts and sleek ascots. Oyéjidé certainly has a sense of color and a fascination with blending the traditions of menswear that dominate the world of ready-to-wear with the bold, bright drape that is prevalent in West African dashikis. If only he was more interested in turning this cross-cultural art into the narrative or themes of his film. Rather, it relies on its ability to spot a compelling image. He centers many of his remarkable compositions on stained glass, bodies of water, and the creation of textiles, many of which are loosely reflected in different cultural contexts. Rivers and lakes become fountains; the construction of fashion houses turns to strip weaving. But everything is flash.

When Oyéjidé (who also edited the film alongside Sosena Solomon) tries anything with the camera beyond pointing it at something pretty, things get dicey. A portable sequence lacks nuance or panache; rather than contributing to an energetic scene, the shots of young Aimé traversing his village with a bright yellow kite behind him are jagged and inelegant, lacking the formal discipline to connect and flow. Blown into the larger structure of the film, this jerky progression is always more blurry than poetic. Always more opaque than revealing.

This is because even though Oyéjidé seems to be interested in larger themes, he is the best at creating simple still images. Chained together, they play less like an experimental film and more like an advertisement for a season of couture, taking the inspiration behind the clothes and using it to create a fashion-focused short. Remove the nice clothes and you’ll find the static dummy underneath.

Director: Walé Oyejide
Writer: Walé Oyejide
With : Alain Tiendrebeogo, Mousty Mbaye, Noel Minougou, Aissata Deme, Hafissata Coulibaly
Release date: January 23, 2023 (Sundance)

Jacob Oller is a film editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.

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