One corrupt bureaucracy has supplanted another in the fictitious West African town in “Whirlwind,” an overly ambitious mix of political satire and culture-clash drama. Third feature by Burkina Faso’s S. Pierre Yameogo boasts strong performances and tech credits, but its muted outrage is ultimately dissipated by a lack of focus. Timely subject, unfortunately, will not translate into international.
Pic revolves around the struggle between holdover Lebanese merchants and a black businessman for a lucrative government rice contract. Mouni, who would appear to be the right color for the new order, assumes he has a lock on the contract. Why then does the minister of trade always keep him waiting? Answer: Because the wealthy Jabert brothers, longtime partners in the government’s money-laundering scheme, know where more skeletons are buried. But all is not lost. The Jaberts may succumb to their own arrogance: Younger brother Amoude already is in hot water for a traffic death.
The situation goes from tragic to absurd as Amoude is released and an eyewitness to the accident, con artist Lale, is jailed. There’s nothing at all subtle about Yameogo’s examination of modern-day African politics. His is a world of offhand bribes, Main Street drug deals and, worst of all, black-on-black exploitation. The minister’s wife is named Madame Money and is always photographed with her head cropped by the frame. When Fati, Amoude’s black wife, attempts to regain custody of their child at the Women’s Rights Center, she’s greeted by a dozing organizer.
“Ignorance is bliss” could be the state motto. From the bedroom to the president’s palace, it’s a foregone conclusion: If you’re black in the New Africa, you’re in for trouble; you’re still a second-class citizen.
At his best, Yameogo comes off as a West African Costa-Gavras who knows how to spark debate through overstatement. Unfortunately, he’s also prone to narrative clutter. There are so many melodramatic threads swirling about the central Africa-for-Africans message that Yameogo ultimately undermines his own argument and is guilty of the same obfuscation he condemns in government.