- Directed by Mati Diop
- Written by Mati Diop and Olivier Demangel
- Starring Mame Bineta Sane
- Classification PG; 104 minutes
Mati Diop’s Atlantics offers plenty of material for necessary discussions. We could talk about how, this past spring, the French filmmaker became the first black woman to premiere a feature on the Cannes Film Festival’s competition slate. Or we could talk about how her film then won the festival’s jury prize, making Diop the first black woman to win an award at Cannes. Ever. But mostly, we should be discussing the fantastic barrier-breaking work that the film itself represents.
A sensual and heady stew of romance, family drama, police procedural, political polemic and ghost story, Atlantics marks the debut of a ferocious talent in Diop. (That her film is so confident in its genre blend shouldn’t be too much of a surprise; she got her start in film acting for the similarly unconventional Claire Denis.)
In Dakar, the young Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) longs to be with construction worker Souleiman (Traore), but she has been promised to another, and he sees no future in Senegal. But after Souleiman and his fellow workers – who have been stiffed by the owner of the huge new tower they’ve been working on – leave the country for some vaguely brighter prospects, tragedy strikes on the Atlantic Ocean. And then the story takes an unexpectedly haunting turn.
Diop takes some highly unusual detours, both narratively and thematically, to get to a somewhat predictable ending, but there is a confidence in her vision that is startling. The intense pleasure of Atlantics is not in the A-to-B storytelling, but in the poignant and painful emotions its filmmaking conjures. And in the realization that this is just the first scream of an intensely curious and essential cinematic voice.
Atlantics opens Nov. 22 in Toronto; Nov. 28 in Winnipeg; and Nov. 29 in Montreal and on Netflix
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