It does feel overreaching at times, but Mati Diop’s French-Senegalese first feature is a beguiling take on how tragedy can haunt the present.
Dir. Mati Diop
2019 | Senegal/France | Drama/Mystery | 106 mins | 1.66:1 | Wolof & French
NC16 (passed clean) for some sexual references
Cast: Mame Bineta Sane, Amadou Mbow, Traore
Plot: In a popular suburb of Dakar, workers on the construction site of a futuristic tower, without pay for months, decide to leave the country by the ocean for a better future. Among them is Souleiman, the lover of Ada, promised to another.
Awards: Won Grand Jury Prize & Nom. for Camera d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: MK2 (SG: Netflix)
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
The first feature film from Mati Diop (the niece of highly-regarded Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety of Touki Bouki (1973) and Hyenas (1992) fame) comes highly-awarded in the form of the Grand Jury Prize from the Cannes Film Festival, where she became the first black female director to compete for the Palme d’Or in the main competition.
To me, Atlantics is a good but not great film, but it is worth a pop if you are into a different kind of arthouse experience that straddles into odd territory. S
hot in Senegal in both Wolof and French languages, Atlantics takes the real-world tragedy of desperate people dreaming of a better life across the ocean to Europe, and fashions it into a beguiling ghost tale.
A group of frustrated construction workers decides to make the dangerous boat trip after their employer continues to stall on their wages after many months.
But Diop’s work is not about them, but the women who are left behind. One of them, Ada, is in love with one of the workers, whose whereabout is uncertain.
Atlantics is a strange film, both atmospherically (which it has in abundance, including its brilliant use of music as sound design by Kuwaiti electronic musician Fatima Al Qadiri) and narratively.
As Ada desperately tries to find him—and also in a bid to escape an arranged marriage—a police investigator also attempts to track her for he suspects she is indirectly involved in a case of arson.
Diop links everything together by a fascinating if way too conspicuous use of magical realism where ‘ghosts’ collectively haunt the present—to say any more might devalue its mystique. The film holds together ultimately, but not without feeling overreaching at times.
However, through Atlantics, Diop gives us a slice of West African life in Dakar, romanticising the dreams and desires of its young people, while using her vision of looking glass logic to comment on the daily struggles of the working-class who are constantly exploited by the rich.