|Directed by||Mati Diop|
|Music by||Fatima Al Qadiri|
|Edited by||Aël Dallier Vega|
Atlantics (French: Atlantique) is a 2019 internationally co-produced supernatural romantic drama film directed by Mati Diop, in her feature directorial debut. It was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Diop made history when the film premiered at Cannes, becoming the first black woman to direct a film featured in competition at the festival.
The film is centered around a young woman, Ada, and her partner, Souleiman, struggling in the face of employment, class, migration, crime, family struggles, and ghosts. Working mostly with unknown actors, Diop focused in the film on issues such as the refugee crisis, remorse, loss, grief, class struggle, and taking responsibility (or not) of one's actions. The Atlantic Ocean is used in many ways throughout the film, including as a symbol and engine for change, growth, life, and death.
In a suburb of Dakar that lies along the Atlantic coast, a futuristic-looking tower is about to be officially opened. The construction workers have not been paid for months. One night, the workers decide to leave the country by sea, in search of a brighter future in Spain. Among them is Souleiman, the lover of Ada. However, Ada is betrothed to another man – the wealthy Omar. Ada is deeply worried about Souleiman, as she waits for news of his fate in the run-up to her wedding. On her wedding day, Omar's bed mysteriously catches fire in a suspected arson attack, and a young detective is assigned to investigate the case.
In the coming days, Ada falls under suspicion and is subjected to interrogations and a virginity test. Meanwhile, her friend Fanta, as well as the young detective are suffering from a mysterious illness. It slowly emerges that the spirits of the men lost at sea have returned and each night take possession of the bodies of other inhabitants of Dakar. Most have their focus on the tycoon who withheld their pay, forcing them to go across the sea. They demand their pay, threatening to burn the tower down otherwise. When they receive their pay from the tycoon they force him to dig their graves so that their spirits may rest. But Souleiman wants only to be with Ada. Unfortunately, he has possessed the young detective, which initially scares Ada. But as she meets the other spirits, including one who possesses Fanta, she comes to understand and spends a last night with the new Souleiman. While reviewing footage from the wedding, the detective sees that he, under the possession of Souleiman's spirit, was the one who committed the arson. He closes the case.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 96% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 150 reviews, with an average rating of 7.87/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "An unpredictable supernatural drama rooted in real-world social commentary, Atlantique suggests a thrillingly bright future for debuting filmmaker Mati Diop." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 85 out of 100 based on 30 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Atlantique won Best First Feature in IndieWire's 2019 Critics Poll, and was ranked fourth in Best Foreign Film.
Former United States President Barack Obama named Atlantics among his favorite films and television series of 2019. In his annual list of favorite films, which he released on Twitter on 29 December 2019.
K. Austin Collins writing for Vanity Fair stated, "Atlantics stuns and surprises because it tries to pull off something slippery and hard to define, a ghost story (or is it a zombie story?) that’s rooted in the material reality of Dakar and its lower classes, that’s openly political, accordingly, but which also seems flickering and unreal, alive to whatever these mysteries have in store... Atlantics should have us scrambling to see whatever [Diop] makes next." Hannah Giorgis of The Atlantic commented, "In Atlantics, the Cannes Grand Prix–winning film by the French-Senegalese director Mati Diop, the water is both a threat and a source of comfort. With soft camerawork and pointed dialogue, Diop casts a shadow over the sea and all its possibilities... The result is a transportive love story with an undercurrent of social critique that manages to be at once haunting and hopeful." The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gave the film four stars out of five and wrote, "Atlantique is about the return of the repressed, or the suppressed: the men who were denied their rightful pay on the building site then faced the real possibility of a watery grave. Their spirit rises up, and this becomes a ghost story or a revenge story. Atlantique may not be perfect, but I admired the way that Diop did not simply submit to the realist mode expected from this kind of material, and yet neither did she go into a clichéd magic-realist mode, nor make the romantic story the film’s obvious centre. Her film has a seductive mystery." Justin Chang in his review for the Los Angeles Times noted, " Drawing on a potent vein of local mythology, Diop weaves these paranormal elements into her canvas with thrift, ingenuity and bracing matter-of-factness. In her hands, a vengeful ghost seems no more absurd or irrational than, say, the futuristic high-rise tower that’s being erected on the coast." Bilal Qureshi of NPR said, "It's the story of the women...left behind. And it's a ghost story. Atlantics is a ghost story about migration. It dramatizes the stories of the young men who leave countries like Senegal in hopes of reaching Europe, and how their absence — and their loss — haunts the women they leave behind."
Monica Castillo of RogerEbert.com gave the film four stars out of four, commenting, "On the surface, this is a familiar story of lovers kept apart by circumstances beyond their control, but “Atlantics” quickly reveals itself to be so much deeper that. Diop, who co-wrote the screenplay with Olivier Demangel, blends the story with the desperation that forces them to leave home and loved ones, echoes of the refugee crisis, a look at the exploitation of the poor by the wealthy and the fetishization of virginity, purity, and marriage. The mystery of “Atlantics” unravels slowly, its gentle twists keep surprises hidden in plain sight." Jay Weissberg writing for Variety stated, "The capricious ocean is a recurrent, mesmerizing image in Mati Diop’s feature debut “Atlantics,” but given its perfidious connotations for the people of Senegal, who’ve lost so many souls to its depths, the director ensures the rolling waves remain hypnotic rather than beautiful. It’s the right decision for this romantic and melancholy film, more apt than some of the flawed narrative choices that frustrate though don’t compromise the atmosphere of loss and female solidarity in the story of a young woman whose love has died at sea. Part social commentary, part ghost tale, “Atlantics” will get a major boost from its Cannes competition slot and could see strong international sales." IndieWire's Eric Kohn gave the movie B+ grade and noted, "As it ventures further along its spellbinding path, “Atlantics” remains a deeply romantic work that magnetized the fears of people trapped by their surroundings and striving for the companionship that can rescue them from despair. It doesn’t quite let them get there, but Diop doesn’t strike a hopeless tone the whole way through. Ultimately, “Atlantics” shows how that even these bleak circumstances can have empowering ramifications for the women trapped by the shore, and why it’s a portal to a better life even if they stay put." Leslie Felperin in her review for The Hollywood Reporter noted, "...the film pulls together some exceedingly strong components. It has buckets of atmosphere to spare, enough to build a biome or two on Mars. Nevertheless, the script sometimes feels like a concept for a short attenuated to make a feature running time, and in-the-rough performances from some of the supporting, non-professional players — although discovery teenage Mama Sane in the lead role is a delight — somewhat dilute its strong brew. On the other hand, some viewers may actively savor the rawer, ragged edges."
David Fear of Rolling Stone gave the film four and half stars out of five, commenting "...even when things start to dip into supernatural territory, Atlantics remains oddly grounded, still dedicated to tackling a topical subject without being dogmatic. You feel as if you’re watching something that’s region-specific, yet it never makes its characters feel like “others.” Nor do you ever sense that the act of giving these often agency-less females a voice is something based in charity, because Diop makes the endeavor feel like a necessity. It ends with a moment of desire and transcendental bliss, as well as a settling of scores and a glance into a mirror that, in a single edit, becomes a stare fixed straight at the audience. The look is not accusatory, however, so much as a suggestion of complicity, a sharing of a secret. It doubles as a nifty summation of the entire film. Atlantics pulls you into an experience. The empathy machine runs at full speed here." Kelsey Adams of Now gave the film four stars out of five and wrote, "Although it’s a migrant story, it focuses on those left behind. As the distressed women grapple with the departure of their men, things turn increasingly uncanny. Unexplained arson and illnesses shift Atlantics into supernatural territory, and Diop incorporates elements of Muslim mysticism and French folklore without being gimmicky. The deft blend of fantasy and drama uses supernatural elements to home in on the abundant, unjust realities the characters face." Richard Brody of The New Yorker noted, "Diop films the characters and the city with a tactile intimacy and a teeming energy that are heightened by the soundtrack’s polyphony of voices and music; she dramatizes the personal experience of public matters—religious tradition, women’s autonomy, migration, corruption—with documentary-based fervor, rhapsodic yearning, and bold affirmation." Namwali Serpell of The Nation stated, "Atlantics speaks the tongue of beauty. Moonrise, sunset. Reflective glass, shards of mirror. Fluttering curtains, gauzy ones. Rosy light, constellated lights. Filigree waves, the vast implacable sea... But none of these patterns add up to a message. Rather, they weave a material form within which Diop twists plot and genre."
- List of submissions to the 92nd Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film
- List of Senegalese submissions for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film
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