Starring: Abdou Balde, Aminata Kane, Ibrahima Mbaye, Mame Bineta Sane
Atlantics won the Grand Prix at the 2019 Festival de Cannes.
Eyes meet and lives slip in and out of consciousness in Mati Diop’s beguiling first feature Atlantics. The sea is never out of focus, like a grey blanket of diamond-sparkling beauty that engulfs feelings and loyalties, washing away the harsh lines that separate dreams from reality.
The Senegalese actress makes her directorial debut with a picture that threads traces of a ghost story, a horror-mystery, an understanding of desperate migration. But at its core and above all else, Atlantics is a love story. Its romantic spirit never fades, the poetry of affection is stronger than anything.
The story begins in precarity, as Senegalese workers tirelessly giving their bodies to their labour are demanding their wages from a corrupt employer – three months late, still no pay. Ada is one of these women, Suleiman is one of the men. She’s betrothed to marry a rich man she does not love, in 10 days time, and she sneaks out at night to spend time with Suleiman, who she really loves. But Suleiman and several other boys in Dakar have grown weary of such dire living conditions – one night, they take a pirogue out to sea and set off for Spain, in search of a better life.
The feature is based on Diop’s 2009 short film of the same name, which focused on the mission of a boat full of men heading out to sea with life-altering consequences. Here, the director draws attention to the women left behind. From the moment they notice their men have gone, Diop’s women sink deeper into a state of woozy beauty, full of longing and mystery.
Atlantics formally mimics the slippery psychology of its characters, never fully committing to explain the full truth on migration, on the mystical power, on Ada’s own moral compass. This can grow tiresome, as if every theme is floating in the ether but never settling long enough to fully penetrate a foreign audience.
But there’s enough in Diop’s confident style to make a viewing of Atlantics crucial homework to keep tabs on one of the most exciting filmmakers emerging today. The poetry of the script is echoed in wide, airy visuals that embrace the glittering natural beauty of landscapes that breathe and let mystery flow.
Composer Fatima Al Qadiri also rises to the occasion, with music that echoes The Weeknd as much as Black Mirror. There’s always a sense of something brewing beneath the surface, of another layer to unpeel that could reveal more love, more danger, more mystery. It’s a fascinating starting point for a fresh voice to explore, enrapture and enrage a stale mindset with whispering magic for years to come.
Reviewed at the 2019 Festival de Cannes. Atlantics is yet to receive a UK release date.
|What||Atlantics film review|
18 May 19 – 18 May 20, TIMES VARY
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